'Nothing We Could Do To Fix The Pieters Situation' - PGA Tour Referee

In a bizarre turn of events, Bryson DeChambeau received a free drop from a sprinkler head, whereas Thomas Pieters didn't

Sprinkler head is sprayed
(Image credit: Getty Images)

PGA Tour Chief Referee, Gary Young, has come out with an explanation of the rather bizarre incident that occurred on Wednesday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, with Young stating that: "There was nothing we could do to fix the Thomas Pieters situation."

The incident, which occurred on the 13th hole at Austin Country Club, left viewers rather perplexed, as Thomas Pieters found a sprinkler head that was positioned between the green and lake with his second shot.

While this would typically entitle a player to a free drop, the sprinkler head was touching a red line marking the penalty area. After consulting with a PGA Tour official, Pieters was frustrated to learn he was being denied the free drop.

If that wasn't controversial enough, only hours later, DeChambeau put his golf ball in the exact same place, only this time, the American would receive a free drop, with rules officials quickly on the scene to spray paint the grass over the sprinkler head green, removing the offending red line.

Bryson shakes hands with Bland

DeChambeau would go on to halve his match with Englishman, Richard Bland.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Now, the PGA Tour's Chief Referee has given an explanation of what occurred during Wednesday's state of play. In a press conference, Gary Young stated: "So I imagine the question is why did we have a situation with Thomas Pieters earlier during his match where he was denied relief from a sprinkler head that was just outside the penalty area, and then later in a match with Bryson DeChambeau, he was granted relief from that same situation.

"Obviously match play, each match is its own individual story; let's call it that. To me, two wrongs don't make a right. To make the correction before Bryson's match got there was important.

"When we heard about the original ruling, the way the penalty area is marked, the line -- and as you look at them out on the golf course, the line kind of goes around each sprinkler head, keeping it in the general area of the golf course, not in the penalty area. That means a player is always going to get relief.

"When the golf course was marked, the line got a little bit closer. Obviously there's a lot of wind when you're making these golf courses. The line got a little too close to it. The official who ruled on it was going based on what he was looking at, okay.

13th hole at Austin

The 13th hole at Austin Country, the sprinkler head is positioned in a slim slot between the lake and green.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

"Obviously the intention was to keep them all outside. But when he was looking at it, he ruled on it based on the fact that that red line was technically touching both the ball and the sprinkler head. At that time I don't want to say he ruled incorrectly because I think he ruled based on what he was looking at. 

"It then got brought to our attention. We talked about it as a committee and felt very firmly, two wrongs don't make a right. We've got to correct this because clearly it should be outside.

"As they were on their way down there with some paint to correct the line, Bryson's situation came up. He called me on the phone and asked -- he said, I've got the same situation. Now that I know the intention was to have it outside the penalty area, are you comfortable with me ruling on it that way, and I said, yes, I want you to rule on it that way because we're about to change the marking on it.

"There was nothing we could do to fix the Thomas Pieters situation. It was over with. But just to get it right was important."

Pieters hits a drive

Pieters thankfully won his match against Tom Hoge 2&1.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

According to Young, the decision regarding DeChambeau's drop had "already been made prior to his ball getting there," and that Officials "had discussed it and were in the process of getting the paint to the location."

As the paint was on the way to the area, "a call came from the official: I've got the exact same situation again; how do you want me to handle this. And I said, you've got to rule on it now; now that you know our intention was to keep the ball in the general area, please rule on it that way.

"Again, it's the great part of the fact that this is match play and we can make those changes because each individual match you can change something like that. If it was a stroke-play event we would have had to keep it that way through the entire day until all competitors finished their round and then make the change. But because of match play, we did it in between.

"I don't want to say that (it was a painting error), because obviously an error would have been to purposely paint and hit that thing and have it in there. It was just, again, windy conditions when you're marking the golf course. Anyone that's ever done it, it's blowing around on you out there in the wind, and I think the wind just caused it to get a little close, and quite honestly we should have picked up on that as a committee."

Matt Cradock
Staff Writer

Matt joined Golf Monthly in February 2021 covering weekend news, before also transitioning to equipment and testing. After freelancing for Golf Monthly and The PGA for 18 months, he was offered a full-time position at the company in October 2022 and continues to cover weekend news and social media, as well as help look after Golf Monthly’s many buyers’ guides and equipment reviews.

Taking up the game when he was just seven years of age, Matt made it into his county squad just a year later and continues to play the game at a high standard, with a handicap of around 2-4. To date, his best round came in 2016, where he shot a six-under-par 66 having been seven-under through nine holes. He currently plays at Witney Lakes in Oxfordshire and his favourite player is Rory McIlroy, despite nearly being struck by his second shot at the 17th during the 2015 BMW PGA Championship.

Matt’s current What’s In The Bag?

Driver: Honma TW747, 8.75°

Fairway Wood: TaylorMade Rocketballz Stage 2, 15°, 19°

Hybrid: Adams Super Hybrid, 22°

Irons: Mizuno MP54, 5-PW

Wedges: Cleveland 588 RTX 2.0 Tour Satin, 50°, 56°, 60°

Putter: Cleveland TFI 2135 Satin Cero

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x