7 Of The Strangest Golf Rules Incidents On Tour

Our look at some of the strangest golf rules incidents on tour features some of golf's biggest names including Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Our look at some of the strangest golf rules incidents on tour features some of golf's biggest names including Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia

7 Of The Strangest Golf Rules Incidents On Tour

While most rules issues on tour may be straightforward, occasionally they are not. We're focusing on these here in our round-up of 7 of the strangest golf rules incidents on tour.

Several of these incidents occurred before the 2019 rules changes when the number of rules was reduced and everything renumbered.

So the rule numbers mentioned, and some of the terminology used, won't always tally with the current rule book.

Tiger Woods - 'that drop' in the 2013 Masters

Probably nothing would have happened here if Tiger hadn’t said what he said.

Tiger's third shot into 15 in round two rebounded unluckily off the flagstick into the water. He then proceeded to drop not as near to where he had originally played from as possible, but a couple of yards further back to prevent a repeat episode - something he mentioned in an interview.

Tiger's problems began when he said he moved two club-lengths further back to drop (Photo: Getty Images)

He was only spared disqualification because, having already been alerted to the incident, Masters officials had deemed everything okay before he signed his card. But that was before Tiger had said he'd gone two yards further back.

Fred Ridley, chairman of the competition committee, said: "After meeting with the player, it was determined that he had violated Rule 26 and he was assessed a two-stroke penalty.

"The penalty of disqualification was waived by the committee under Rule 33 as the committee had previously reviewed the information and made its initial determination prior to the finish of the player's round."

Tiger’s 6 on that hole became an 8. Interestingly, if his ball had missed the flag and spun, he may well have made a birdie 4. He finished four behind Adam Scott and Angel Cabrera.

Rickie Fowler- penalty area issues - final round, Waste Management Phoenix Open 2019

Fowler was leading when his pitch on the 11th hole ran through the green and into a penalty area.

He dropped out and the ball came to rest. It stayed at rest for some time before rolling back into the water again as he assessed his shot several yards away. Despite not causing it to move, he had to take a one-shot penalty to drop back out again. He got up and down for a 7.

Rickie's ball had been at rest before rolling back into the same penalty area, so he had to take another penalty drop (Photo: Getty Images)

Because the ball had been at rest, it was deemed under Rule 9.3 to have subsequently been moved by natural forces. When this happens, you must then play the ball from where it comes to rest.

Because it came to rest in water in the penalty area, Fowler had no option other than to take another penalty drop.

The consolation for Fowler was that he went on to win by two!

Matt Southgate – the troublesome leaf - DAP Championship, Web.com Tour 2017

Playing in the penultimate event of the Web.com Tour Finals Southgate was well-placed to secure a PGA Tour card for 2018.

In the final round he had a 6ft birdie putt on 15. As the ball was heading for the hole, a leaf blew across and knocked it offline. Bad luck, or so Southgate thought as he tapped in for par.

Matthew Southgate was in good shape to get his PGA Tour card until a leaf intervened (Photo: Getty Images)

But at the time, Rule 19.1b (ball in motion on putting green deflected by outside agency) meant that Southgate should have cancelled the stroke and replayed. The rule read ‘must’ not ‘may’.

When it came to light after Southgate had signed his card, he was assessed a four-stroke penalty. Two for playing from a wrong place after not replaying the putt; two more for signing for a wrong score.

He finished last in the tournament and went on to miss out on his PGA Tour card.

Stewart Cink – bunker issues - Zurich Classic 2008

The incident occurred when his caddie raked a bunker Cink had stood in to play a shot on the 16th hole in round two. The shot ended up in another bunker 180 yards away.

Unaware of any potential problem, Cink signed and returned his card. The incident only came to light during a chat with Zach Johnson in the third round.

Cink didn't realise he'd broken the rules until chatting with Zach Johnson in round three (Photo: Getty Images)

Cink's breach of Rule 13.4 (at the time) was for testing the condition of a similar hazard. Because he was not aware this meant a two-stroke penalty, he was DQ'd for signing for a wrong score.

This was seen as an undesirable outcome and at odds with the need to care for the course.

The Joint Rules Committee of The R&A/USGA swiftly issued a statement saying: “It is not the intent of Rule 13-4a to prohibit players from practising the proper etiquette of the game when more than one bunker is involved.

"Therefore, when the player’s ball lies in a bunker, it would not be a breach of the Rules if the player were to smooth the sand in another bunker, provided (a) the smoothing is for the purpose of tidying up the bunker, (b) the smoothing does not breach Rule 13-2 (Improving Lie, Area of Intended Stance or Swing, or Line of Play) with respect to his next stroke and (c) there is not a reasonable possibility that the smoothing could affect a subsequent stroke by the player.”

Today, Rule 12.2b encourages you to smooth bunkers to care for the course. But you mustn't improve the conditions affecting the stroke.

Bernhard Langer and Sergio Garcia – tree heroics

These are not really rules incidents as such. But we've included them to highlight that there is nothing to stop you playing your ball wherever you find it.

However, you must: make a proper stroke at the ball; not move it while trying to gain access to it; and adhere to all the rules about not improving the conditions affecting the stroke.

There is no problem in seeking assistance to help you climb a tree either. Langer's tree-climbing heroics on the 17th hole at Fulford in the 1981 B&H were, indeed, crowd-assisted. He managed to then knock it on the green from the tree and two-putt for bogey.

A plaque now marks the spot at Fulford GC in the tree that Bernhard Langer played from (Photo: Getty Images)

Sergio Garcia clambered on a buggy to help him scale a tree in 2013 at Bay Hill before playing a one-handed recovery shot.

If you don't fancy scaling a tree, to proceed under the unplayable ball rule, you must be able to identify the ball as yours. Binoculars or laser rangefinders are allowed!

If it is yours, you then have the normal unplayable ball options in the general area under penalty of one stroke. You can go back to where you last played from, go back on line, or drop within two club-lengths. For the final option, the reference point for the drop is on the ground directly below where the ball is lying in the tree.

Be careful though – Langer said the exertions tensed his muscles so much he had zero feel for the ensuing putt. And Garcia subsequently withdrew shortly after his tree climb with a shoulder injury!

Phil Mickelson - putting moving ball – 2018 US Open

Mickelson hit a 12ft bogey putt too hard on the treacherous 13th green at Shinnecock Hills in the third round. He then famously ran round and hit it again while it was still moving to stop it running off the green.

Despite calls for a stronger punishment, he was only penalised two strokes under Rule 14-5 at the time: “a player must not make a stroke at his ball while it is moving.”

Mickelson claimed he knew the rule and was taking advantage of it, thinking it represented his best chance of minimising his score.

Phil Mickelson was penalised two shots when he bizarrely putted a moving ball in the 2018 US Open (Photo: Getty Images)

USGA officials penalised him two shots, but others called for disqualification for a serious breach of Rule 1-2 – “a player must not take an action with the intent to influence the movement of a ball in play.” A serious breach is considered to be one that paves the way to a significant advantage.

Even if that didn’t apply, others felt that Rule 33-7 could also have seen him DQ’d if the committee considered him guilty of a serious breach of etiquette.

But the only penalty for one of the strangest golf rules incidents in a Major was two shots.

Marcel Siem – the preferred lies that weren't - Open de France 2019

Siem was convinced preferred lies were in operation in the first round of the 2019 Open de France. They weren’t!

By the time rules officials got to him to tell him, he had preferred his lie five times. Each occasion cost him two penalty strokes for playing from a wrong place under Rule 14.7.

Marcel Siem had already preferred his lie five times in the 2019 Open de France before learning of his error! (Photo: Getty Images)

That cost him ten shots in total. Feeling that was too much to claw back (11-over rather than 1-over after nine) Siem opted to DQ himself.

The moral of the tale is, always read the Local Rules!

Jeremy Ellwood
Contributing Editor

Jeremy Ellwood has worked in the golf industry since 1993 and for Golf Monthly since 2002 when he started out as equipment editor. He is now a freelance journalist writing mainly for Golf Monthly. He is an expert on the Rules of Golf having qualified through an R&A course to become a golf referee. He is a senior panelist for Golf Monthly's Top 100 UK & Ireland Course Rankings and has played all of the Top 100 plus 91 of the Next 100, making him well-qualified when it comes to assessing and comparing our premier golf courses. He has now played 1,000 golf courses worldwide in 35 countries, from the humblest of nine-holers in the Scottish Highlands to the very grandest of international golf resorts. He reached the 1,000 mark on his 60th birthday in October 2023 on Vale do Lobo's Ocean course. Put him on a links course anywhere and he will be blissfully content.

Jezz can be contacted via Twitter - @JezzEllwoodGolf

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