Is this golf’s harshest rule?  

Ivan Morris

Maverick McNealy (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

I’m sure the name of Daniel Berger had already been noted on his short list by 2021 US Ryder Cup Captain, Steve Stricker who has six personal picks. When Berger scored an eagle three to win the AT&T tournament on the scenic and famous par-5, 18th at Pebble Beach, he sure done left some calling card and gained a bulletproof, self-confidence builder for the future.

Another name that should be noted by Stricker is that of Maverick McNealy, the former World No. 1 amateur, who came to the last hole at Pebble Beach one shot behind the eventual winner where, in spite of scoring a birdie four, he lost ground due to a harsh penalty stroke being added to his score in bizarre circumstances earlier in the round on the 5th hole when McNeely was ‘motoring nicely’ on 3 under par after the four holes he had played and was bang in contention.

His wedge tee shot on the par-3, 5th flew the green and plugged. Allowed a free drop under rule, the ball defied gravity and hopped up to sit precariously on top of the grass. All golfers know how delicately such a lie must be approached and McNeely was carefulness personified as he took up his stance.


I saw on TV what followed several times and couldn’t be sure that the player had grounded his club, or did anything that might have caused the ball to suddenly settle down into the thick grass just as he began to address it. The on-course referee wasn’t sure either but he (eventually) administered a penalty stroke and instructed the player to replace the ball back on top of the grass; by no means an easy thing to do.

To his credit, McNeely behaved impeccably and displaying patience and calmness and no little golfing skill fought his way back into contention going up the last. If I were Stricker, I’d like to have a guy like that on my team.

Meanwhile, Russell Knox suffered a similar fate in the middle of the first fairway but he did not know he had been penalised until he was playing the 5th hole and officials had reviewed his case on tape.

Inadvertently moving the ball is a confusing grey area and an extremely harsh rule. In both cases, neither player sought or received any advantage over the field, which much be sickening when one knows others ‘get away with things with their full knowledge and consent’. I really do think this rule needs amending to take into account when no advantage whatsoever accrued.

Footnote: It’s ridiculous situation that Stricker has six captain’s picks when finalising his US Ryder Cup team. Surely the top six would pick themselves no matter what selection system is used? It’s only with the last one or two names that any selectorial disagreement or controversy arises. Why not go full on one way or the other? The Captain selects all twelve or all who have earned their uniform via the points table automatically get the nod? To select half the team seems daft. Not that Berger or McNeely will care if they receive the captain’s call to slope arms at Whistling Straits. They will deserve it.

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2 responses to “Is this golf’s harshest rule?  ”

  1. Gerry Solan avatar
    Gerry Solan

    I think McNEALY incurred the 1 shot penalty during his 3rd round unlike Knox who did so on the 1st in the final round – both deemed to have caused the ball to move – can’t see that rule changing for good reason.

  2. Ray Managh avatar
    Ray Managh

    Ray Managh 17th February 2021
    It is blatantly obvious that Russell Knox, one of my favourite players, twice placed his club behind his ball before it moved. He immediately explained to his playing partner that he had twice addressed the ball before it moved. By the time the referee arrived his explanation had changed somewhat — from placing his club to twice “waggling” his club above and away from the ball when it moved. Then he told the referee he was “attempting” to address the ball when it moved. I have no doubt but that the movement of the ball and his loss of memory between explaining to his playing partner what had happened and the arrival of the referee contributed to the decision to penalize him. What was it that Phil the Thrill said happens regularly on tour?

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