PGA Tour Chief Referee Explains Cameron Smith's Third Round Penalty

Smith was given a two-shot penalty after playing his ball from the wrong place during the third round at the St. Jude Championship

Cameron Smith and Gary Young
(Image credit: Getty Images)

After Cameron Smith was assessed a two-shot penalty on Sunday for playing a ball from the wrong place on the fourth hole during his third round, PGA Tour's Chief Referee, Gary Young, has now explained the decision, with Smith not being informed of the breach until 11am (GMT) this morning.

Speaking to the media, Young stated that: "We had seen it yesterday on the live broadcast. We had an official that was looking at it, but at that point, just knowing the awkwardness of camera angles and that he was dropping in a really tight area there at No. 4, the geometry of the whole situation, he's got basically a sliver he's dropping the ball in.

"We felt very comfortable at that time that he was familiar with the rule, and that it was such a quick view of it that we had, at that time we decided it wasn't worth following up on."

A post shared by PGA TOUR (@pgatour) (opens in new tab)

A photo posted by on

The Chief Referee went on to add: "This is something common that players do every day. After seeing the rebroadcast and seeing it again, we felt that it was pretty close to the line and worth a second look. So we did take a second look at it and sure enough, we felt it was really close to the line, if not touching and possibly on the line. So it was worth asking the player. 

"The rules give the player, as long as the player has shown reasonable judgment in determining whether or not his ball was in or out of the penalty area in this situation with his own naked eye, I thought it was simply going to be a situation where I asked Cam the question and he was going to tell him that he was comfortable that his ball was outside the penalty area.

"When I asked him the question, unfortunately, he said to me, "No, the ball was definitely touching the line." So at that point there's no turning back. That was a moment where I know that the player has knowledge that the ball was touching the line, he just simply didn't understand the rule that it requires the entire ball to be outside of the penalty area and in his relief area. So that was the tough part."

Cameron Smith plays a shot at the 2022 Open Championship

Smith went from starting the day two to four shots back of the lead

(Image credit: Getty Images)

In the past week, Smith has reportedly signed a $100+ million deal with the Saudi-backed series, LIV Golf, with the 28-year-old ready "to cop some heat" after dropping a possible huge hint when interviewed on Sky Sports on Thursday.

However, despite the off course news, Young claimed that Smith's "reaction was very calm," when he was informed of the two-shot penalty. "He knew -- he knew he had made a mistake, he just didn't have an understanding of it. He knew that the rules were the rules. 

"His answer to me is, "The rules are the rules." He just accepted the two-stroke penalty, and I told him that we would be applying it to his fourth hole in Round 3 and he very calmly left the office and he's just going about his business for the day."

See more

What was interesting is that Young also added that: "Ideally, he (Smith) would have just called for an official if he had any question in his mind," before explaining that "I think possibly he just didn't have a question in his mind in that situation, so he proceeded. A rules official is always available. We certainly have someone right in that area. I think he was just comfortable that he was operating within the rules and it just turned out he wasn't, it's that simple."

According to Young, Smith was informed around an hour before his tee time, with the Australian called into the rules office late morning. "I happened to catch him as he came into the clubhouse and just asked him if he wouldn't mind coming into the rules office for a minute for a quick -- I had to run something by him.

"It's something that he needs to clear up in his head prior to the round. Is he going to be under penalty or is he not and the sooner we can talk to him, the better. Well, again, we had seen it live. Originally, we thought, boy, this is so rudimentary, not even worth asking.

"It was such a quick view that we had of it that we were confident that he was comfortable playing from where he did. It wasn't until another official noticed it on the broadcast he had seen last evening. The committee decided -- in a discussion about it this morning, decided to look into it a little further."

Matt Cradock
Freelance Staff Writer

Matt studied Sports Journalism at Southampton Solent University, graduating in 2019. Now a freelance writer for Golf Monthly and the PGA, he covers all aspects of the game, from Tour news to equipment testing and buyers’ guides. Taking up the game at the age of six, Matt currently holds a handicap of 3 and despite not having a hole in one…yet, he has had two albatrosses. His favourite player is Rory McIlroy, despite nearly being struck by his second shot at the 17th during the 2015 BMW PGA Championship.