The modernized Rules of Golf, which are set to be released and enforced on Jan. 1, 2019, may not have simplified the rules as much as they could have.
Playing in the Marquette Intercollegiate this week at Erin Hills in Wisconsin, site of the 2017 U.S. Open, the University of Iowa brought the normally-mandated five players with the top-4 players’ scores counting towards their team total.
A mid-round injury to Matthew Walker on Monday left the Hawkeyes with four players competing and no safety net for a poor round. That was no issue, however, as freshman Gonzo Leal had tied for the lead midway through the second round.
That’s where the Rules of Golf came up and bit the Hawkeyes in a preposterously bizarre way.
“I’ve never seen something like this happen before,” Iowa head coach Tyler Stith told Golfweek.com’s Brentley Romine. “Not even close.”
Leal hit his tee shot right at the par-4 12th hole, which features a blind tee shot, native grass and a small water hazard.
Unsure of where his ball came to rest, Leal declared and played a provisional drive. When Leal reached the landing area, there were two balls in site — his provisional and what the group assumed was the tee shot of Northwestern’s Lucas Becht.
Leal asserted that he believed his first ball went into the small water hazard, but his group couldn’t come to a consensus, so he invoked the two-ball rule (Rule 3-3) in which he would finish the hole by playing two balls — his provisional ball and the ball he would drop under the belief that his original tee ball went into the water hazard.
Becht hit his second shot onto the green and Leal proceeded to play both of his balls up to the putting surface as well. When the group reached the green, there were three golf balls marked with Leal’s mark on it, meaning Becht had hit the wrong ball from the fairway and Leal’s original ball, which he thought was in the hazard, had been in play the whole time.
As a result, Becht was assessed a two-stroke penalty for playing the wrong ball, but Leal was in a much more penalizing position. Leal abandoned the ball that he dropped from the hazard since both his original and provisional balls were in play. He returned to play his original ball from the landing area, but was told he had committed a “serious breach” by playing a ball he had previously abandoned without rectifying the rule he had invoked.
“By hitting his original ball, he actually hit the ‘wrong’ ball,” Stith said. “And since he didn’t correct the mistake and abandoned the other ball, he had no score for the hole and was disqualified.
“But I don’t know what 18-year-old kid is going to know to do that in that situation. I know what happened and it’s been three days, and I’m still not entirely sure what I would’ve done in that situation.”
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The coach said the ruling took over an hour and required a “highly-regarded USGA rules official on site” to make the final call. He called the rule “overly complicated and unnecessarily punitive.”
“Give the player the benefit of the doubt,” Stith said. “He wasn’t trying to gain an advantage. He thought he was doing everything correct. Give him a two-shot penalty and just move on. It would make things a lot easier.”
Finally, because of Walker’s previous WD and Leal’s DQ, the Hawkeyes could only post three scores, therefore disqualifying the team from the event.