Golf’s rule book is a complex maze of information, often misunderstood, typically confusing, but the rock behind how the game is played. Unlike other sports that tailor their own rules depending on the level of play, the Rules of Golf supersede any tour, any organization.
Sure, there are local rules (that’s why you and I can play with a different golf ball on each hole but tour pros—in most instances*—are required to play the same make and brand the entire round), but they are set out in the rule book. Without those local rules, no organization can simply implement its own.
And with that backdrop, there was an issue Sunday at the FedEx St. Jude Championship that understandably makes you scratch your head and gives the casual fan not well-versed in the game’s nuance to question what the hell is going on. Throw in how golf is embracing gambling, and the issue takes on more meaning.
Cam Smith was two shots off the lead when he arrived at TPC Southwind on Sunday but four strokes back when he headed to the first tee due to a penalty that occurred during the third round, wasn’t reviewed at the time, was noticed by a rules official who happened upon the re-broadcast later in the day, and then was assessed on Sunday morning.
To be clear, Smith was in violation of Rule 14.7—and he acknowledged as much when meeting with chief referee Gary Young—but the timing was awkward and again leads to questions about how such penalties should be assessed.
During the third round on Saturday, Smith found the water at the par-3 fourth hole with his tee shot. He took a drop, but it came to rest on the edge of the penalty area—the red line drawn to mark the area.
A player is required to take full relief from a penalty area (just like if you are taking relief from a cart path, no part of your feet can be on the path) but rules officials did not review it as the violation occurred.
“We thought he was comfortable playing from where he did,’’ said Young, who noted he and other officials assumed Smith knew the rule.
But another rules official watched a replay of the telecast on Saturday night and noticed what occurred, deciding to raise the issue on Sunday morning. And this is where things get dicey for the game.
First, the rules were changed a few years ago so that random fans watching from home can’t call in a rules violation. But a rules official who happens to be watching is apparently allowed to do so. Rules have also been altered so a player is not disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard when a violation is discovered later. (Imagine disqualifying Smith after originally electing not to review a possible penalty.)
“After seeing the rebroadcast and seeing it again, we felt that it was pretty close to the line and worth a second look,’’ Young said. “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.’’
Young said he had Smith come into his office after arriving at the course. And if Smith had disputed that the ball was touching the line, he would not have been penalized. But Smith said it was, and the penalty was applied.
“When I asked him the question, unfortunately, he said to me, 'No, the ball was definitely touching the line,'’’ Young said. “So at that point there’s 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 requires the entire ball to be outside of the penalty area and in his relief area.’’
Young defended the ruling saying they took action as soon as possible and that they had a “fiduciary’’ responsibility to the rest of the field. Smith, for his part, did not question the ruling, Young said.
But there is still the issue of timing. While Young acknowledged it was not ideal, nearly 20 hours passed from the time Smith committed the infraction until it was applied. He left the course Saturday and arrived Sunday believing he was two strokes back. Everything occurred so late that tee times could not be adjusted.
And there’s the matter of sportsbooks setting odds on Smith and all that entails.
Golf’s rules allow for this to occur. Such rules issues are in play for the entirety of the tournament and can be revisited as long as the final book on the tournament is not closed. Even though the round was long finished, it was not in the eyes of the rules—unlike other sports, where once you move on to the next play, it’s done.
Smith came out and birdied the first hole but was never able to get much going. He shot a final-round 70 and tied for 13th, six shots out of the playoff. He declined to talk to the media after the round.
All of this was set against the backdrop of Smith’s reported impending move to LIV Golf at the conclusion of the FedEx Cup playoffs. The winner of the British Open last month is ranked No. 2 in the world and would be a huge get for the controversial new series. Naturally, that led to all kinds of conjecture and conspiracy theories, none of which should have come into play.
But had a ruling been made Saturday—or the book closed on such a ruling—the situation would have been far less messy.
* The PGA of America does not use the one-ball rule in its competitions, a fact that many tour players miss. Their rules allow for the rule that is in the Rules of Golf, which allow you to change golf balls from hole to hole. So at the PGA Championship, the KPMG Women’s PGA and the Senior PGA, players can switch from one tee to the next, if they choose. The rule is also in place for Ryder Cups played in the United States.
Moving Up, Moving Out
Four players moved into the top 70 in the FedEx Cup points list following the FedEx St. Jude Championship, thus qualifying for this week’s BMW Championship.
Lucas Glover had the biggest jump, moving from 121st to 34th with a tie for third. Adam Scott went from 77th to 45th after a tie for fifth. Andrew Putnam went from 87th to 47th following a tie for fifth. And Wyndham Clark grabbed the 70th and final spot, moving up from 79th after a tie for 28th.
That means four players were bumped out: Anirban Lahiri (63 to 71), John Huh (67 to 73), Brendan Todd (68 to 74) and Lanto Griffin (69 to 77, though he did not start due to injury).
With his victory, Will Zalatoris moved passed Scottie Scheffler—who missed the cut—into first place in the FedEx standings. Cam Smith dropped a spot to second with Sam Burns fourth and Tony Finau fifth.
The 70 players will try to advance to next week’s Tour Championship, reserved for the top 30—with the 30th spot held by J.J. Spaun.
World Ranking Changes
Announced more than a year ago, the Official World Golf Ranking put in place a new system last week that is going to take a little getting used to while also requiring you to go way into the weeds to figure out how it changes.
The system that is used to rank players around the world based on their performances on more than 20 sanctioned tours has been updated to allow “players and eligible tournaments to be more accurately evaluated relative to each other.’’
One early observation is that with the new system, DP World Tour events will be impacted to the point that many times they will have less points than Korn Ferry Tour events. There are no minimum points for various tournaments—an improvement that means all will be awarded points based on the strength and depth of their fields.
The major championships will continue to award 100 first-place points to the winner, while the Players Championship will award 80. Every other tournament will be judged individually, with a maximum of 80 first-place points.
Points will now be distributed to every player making a cut, and there is a field rating system being used based on a statistical evaluation of every player in the field rather than just those in the field among the current top 200 in the world.
There is still a two-year rolling period, with the most recent 13-week period carrying the most weight. There is still a divisor of 40 tournaments over the two-year period with no more than 52 tournaments counting during that time.
The biggest difference being employed is something called a strokes-gained (SG) world ranking for each player which is based on their actual scores in stroke-play events adjusted for the relative difficulty of each round played over that two-year period. A player’s SG world ranking determines the number of performance points a player brings into a tournament.
Those points are added for all players to determine a field rating, which equals the total points to be distributed at the end of the tournament.
The OWGR’s updated website will list the field rating and project first-place points for each event every week. For example, the FedEx St. Jude Championship was projected to award 68 points to the winner, while the Korn Ferry Tour’s Pinnacle Bank Championship was giving 14 and the DP World Tour’s ISP Handa World Invitational was awarding 8. The Asian Tour’s International Series Singapore event was 7.4.
The system went into effect for this past week’s tournaments and no adjustments were paid to the prior events, meaning this will be a slow process for the new procedure to fully work its way into the rankings.
1. Will Zalatoris became the first player since Camilo Villegas at the 2008 BMW Championship to make a FedEx Cup playoff event his first PGA Tour title after winning the FedEx St. Jude in a playoff over Sepp Straka.
2. The three-tournament Korn Ferry Tour Finals begins this week at the Albertsons Boise Open. It will include the top 75 players in the final Korn Ferry Tour standings as well as those ranked 126th to 200th on the PGA Tour. The top 25 on the Korn Ferry have already secured a PGA Tour card but are playing to possibly improve their position. Another 25 cards will be determined via the three-tournament series that concludes Sept. 1-4.
3. He made a hole in one on Sunday, but Patrick Reed could manage just a tie for 31st in the International Series Singapore event that is backed by LIV Golf. For his troubles, Reed barely earned .3 ranking points in the Official World Golf Ranking. Reed shot his best score of the week in the final round, a 67. He will play in the International Series Korea event this week.
4. The winner of the International Series event was Thailand’s Nitithorn Thippong, who won by a shot over three players at 272. Reed was eight shots back. There were 22 LIV golfers in the field, 16 of whom made the cut. The highest finisher was Thailand’s Phachara Khongwatmai, who tied for second. Two others finished in the top 10, including Peter Uihlein.
There were several recognizable names missing from the start of the FedEx Cup playoffs, and for those who didn’t have other exemptions (such as Harris English, who won multiple times in the previous season), it means a loss of full exempt status.
There are ways to get exempt status back, namely the Korn Ferry Tour Finals, where those who finished 126th to 200th in points begin the process with the top 75 on the Korn Ferry Points list in a three-tournament series of events beginning this week.
Those who have a high standing on the PGA Tour’s career money list can also use a one-time exemption (for top 50 all time, another for top 25 all-time). Or, players in the 126 to 150 range can also get into tournaments based on that criteria, although they will fall in line behind the 50 who come from the Korn Ferry.
Among some of the names you might have missed.
> Matt Wallace. The Englishman missed the cut at the Wyndham Championship, then watched his name float in and out of the top 125 projections. He looked good—until Joohyung Kim won the Wyndham. As a non-member, Kim wasn’t in the FedEx standings. His victory automatically made him a winner, he moved into the FedEx Cup list and bumped Wallace out.
> Harry Higgs. The popular Higgs, who gained acclaim when he lifted his shirt to full approval at the Waste Management Phoenix Open in February after making a par putt on the 16th green, had just three top 10s this season and missed 17 cuts. He finished 136th in the points.
> Zach Johnson. The 2023 U.S. Ryder Cup team captain hasn’t won since his 2015 British Open victory and missed out on securing a spot in the playoffs and a fully exempt card by finishing 140th in points. But he can use a one-time exemption for being among the top 25 money winners all time on the PGA Tour.
> Luke Donald. The 2023 European Ryder Cup team captain is also on the outside looking in. The one-time No. 1 player in the world made just 10 cuts this year and finished 159th. He has used both of his all-time money exemptions (top 25 and top 50) and since he’s outside of the top 150, he’s going to have to rely on past champion status and sponsor invites. The latter should not be much of a problem.
> Brandt Snedeker. A nine-time PGA Tour winner, Snedeker had just two top-25s this season and was 171st in points. He’s also top 25 all-time in career earnings so he can use that exemption if he chooses.
Scottie Scheffler had made more than $13 million this year in official earnings on the PGA Tour. He added another $1 million for being the winner of the AON Risk/Reward Challenge, and added another $4 million for being the Comcast Business bonus winner (No. 1 in FedEx points through the regular season). And he’s guaranteed a minimum of $500,000 because he’s going to make it to the Tour Championship.
And Scheffler still drives the 2012 GMC Yukon his dad gave him while in college.
“I do have the same car, still really dirty,’’ said Scheffler, the reigning Masters champion who leads the FedEx Cup standings. “I actually need to get it washed, but I don't know if it's like worthy of me washing. It gets me from place to place. And I'm not a big shopper, so as long as it keeps running, I'm probably going to keep driving it.’’
Asked how many miles he had on the car, Scheffler said his dad did most of the damage before giving it to him when he was at the University of Texas. “I think I’m at 178 still,’’ he said, meaning 178,000 miles. “You guys may have asked me that question a few months ago and it was probably still 178. When I’m at home, I go to the golf course, I go to the place where I work out and then if we’re going to dinner, it’s probably no more than five minutes from my house and we usually take her (wife Meredith's) car because she doesn’t want to ride in mine.’’
The Masters Countdown
The first round of the Masters is in 234 days, which leaves plenty time those yet to qualify to earn an invitation to the 2023 tournament at Augusta National. The FedEx Cup playoffs provide plenty of incentive. A victory in this week’s BMW Championship for those not already invited or finishing among the top 30 in FedEx points following this week earns an automatic invitation to the Masters.
Following the season-ending Tour Championship in Atlanta, the 2022-23 schedule will begin Sept. 15 in Napa, California, at the Fortinet Championship. That is the first of nine fall events with FedEx Cup points, thus meaning an invitation to the Masters with a victory. The top 50 in the Official World Ranking at the end of 2022 will also get an invitation. The 2023 tournaments leading up to the Masters as well as the top 50 in the world two weeks prior are the other ways to get in.
> Somehow ...
> The top 25 headed to the PGA Tour.
> A donation in lieu of birdies for Stewart Cink.
The PGA Tour’s playoffs continue with this week’s BMW Championship, being played for the first time at Wilmington Country Club in Delaware. The top 70 in the FedEx Cup standings have qualified for the tournament, which will have no 36-hole cut. The top 30 in points following the BMW will move on to the Tour Championship in Atlanta.
Like the FedEx St. Jude Championship, the BMW Championship will offer four times as many FedEx points as a regular PGA Tour event, with the winner receiving 2,000 points.
The BMW Championship took the place—and the history—of the long-running PGA Tour event known as the Western Open that dates to 1899. The tournament became a FedEx playoff event in 2007 and has typically moved locations, with the Chicago area as an anchor. Last year’s tournament won by Patrick Cantlay in a six-hole playoff over Bryson DeChambeau was played at Caves Valley in Maryland. It heads to Olympia Fields outside of Chicago next year.
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