Why Zach Johnson was not penalised at The Open

An insight into the incident on the 18th green at The 2015 Open Championship

Some have queried what Zach Johnson did before attempting his play-off putt on the 18th green

Everyone saw Zach Johnson tap down his line on the 18th green, but while some have queried his actions, The R&A was perfectly happy with what he did...

Zach Johnson may have secured a fine Open victory at St Andrews but some viewers were concerned about the sight of him tapping down something on his line on the 18th green in the play-off.

Both the Golf Monthly Inbox - and indeed The R&A's - were busy in the days after the event with queries from readers and golfers asking why Johnson was not penalised for what he did on the 18th green.

Watch our putting green 'do's and don'ts' video below...

Golf's governing body, it seems, received sufficient queries to warrant it publishing an article on its website explaining what happened...

“Initially Johnson was not sure if the damage on his line of putt was an old hole plug so he called the referee to seek clarification. With the referee’s assistance (who asked for a second opinion), it was established that it was the remnants of an old hole plug and Johnson was permitted to repair it under Rule 16-1c.

“In addition to this, Johnson repaired some damage closer to the hole which, further to video review, proved to be a ball mark. The Rules allow a player to repair ball marks (Rule 16-1c) and in doing so, the line of putt may be touched (Rule 16-1a).”

It seems that many viewers and readers had either put two and two together and made five, or in some instances, were unaware of exactly what can and can’t be touched and repaired on the line of your putt.

While spike marks are a definite no-no, pitchmarks and old hole plugs are absolutely fine, and The R&A has confirmed that it was these that Johnson was attending to.

Zach Johnson: a worthy Open champion

Zach Johnson: a worthy Open champion

You can read The R&A’s full Zach Johnson response here. Some of those who queried his actions commented on the fact that he appeared to be tapping down on his line without doing any other repair work (with a pitchmark repairer or tee), and without calling in his fellow competitors for clarification. But again, there is nothing untoward here as The R&A article goes on to explain...

“In repairing ball marks and/or old hole plugs, the restoration of the surface may include raising the turf (with a tee or pitch mark repairer) and then levelling off the ground with the putter. In Johnson’s case, all that was required was to simply tap down the uneven ground with the putter head.

“There is no requirement under the Rules to inform or consult with another player or referee before repairing such damage. However, it is advisable to do so if there are any doubts over the status of the damage.”

Given that Johnson had consulted with officials at length, and that two top R&A Rules men were close at hand, it seems that he went about everything in the right manner despite what others may have read into it.

Our over-riding conclusion having watched the BBC coverage again and read The R&A’s response is: “Step away from the 18th green at St Andrews; nothing to see here folks, nothing to see.”

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

Jeremy is currently playing...

Driver: Ping G425 LST 10.5˚ (draw setting), Mitsubishi Tensei AV Orange 55 S shaft

3 wood: Ping G425 Max 15˚ (set to flat +1), Mitsubishi Tensei AV Orange 65 S shaft

Hybrid: Ping G425 17˚, Mitsubishi Tensei CK Pro Orange 80 S shaft

Irons 3-PW: Ping i525, True Temper Dynamic Gold 105 R300 shafts

Wedges: Ping Glide 4.0 50˚ and 54˚, 12˚ bounce, True Temper Dynamic Gold 105 R300 shafts

Putter: Ping Fetch 2021 model, 33in shaft (set flat 2)

Ball: Varies but mostly now TaylorMade Tour Response