Pettersson: “We have a lot of stupid rules in golf.”
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Championship


Hat tip to those on Twitter who sent me the link to the above video of the shot where Carl Pettersson, hitting out of a lateral hazard, grazed a leaf on his backswing and received a two-shot penalty on the first hole (and big thanks to Yahoo’s Jay Busbee for posting it).

I watched the replay rather closely — more than once — and I didn’t see The Leaf in question when Pettersson hit the shot. It was only when it was shown in super slo-mo and zoomed in that I could see the club cause a small flyaway object to change position (and I had to really squint to catch The Leaf).

And yes, I’m familiar with the rule he breached: Rule 13-4c. He moved a loose impediment in a lateral water hazard. Though it had no affect on the outcome of the shot or give him an advantage, too bad! Pettersson was slapped with a costly punishment.

“I wasn’t thinking about the leaves, but going back to Brian Davis, the more I thought about it, it was a similar ruling he had,” said the Swedish national. “I knew I could touch the grass.  I just didn’t think about the leaves.  I didn’t think twice about it when I hit the shot.”

Pettersson was told by the rules official immediately afterward that he had breached the rule, but it was going to be reviewed on video. Okay. What leaf?

Well, he made a fantastic par on No. 1. It wasn’t until after Pettersson and his playing partners, Rory McIlroy and Bo Van Pelt, had teed off on No. 4 that he received confirmation for an official. His par turned into a double-bogey. Ouch.

Here’s the explanation of the incident from the PGA of America:

Carl Pettersson was assessed a two-stroke penalty on the first hole of the final round of the 94th PGA Championship for a breach of Rule 13-4c when he moved a loose impediment lying in a lateral water hazard, while his ball was lying in the same hazard.

Pettersson hit his tee shot into the lateral water hazard to the right of the fairway. Before making the stroke, he asked the walking official, Brad Gregory, if he was allowed to touch grass, in the hazard, with his club, prior to the stroke.

Pettersson was correctly informed that he could do so, provided that he did not ground the club in the hazard. In making his backswing, Pettersson’s club brushed the grass behind the ball (not a breach) and at the same time moved a leaf (loose impediment), in breach of the Rule.

Pettersson was immediately notified by Gregory that there may have been a breach of Rule 13-4c, and that he (Gregory) wanted the stroke to be reviewed on video for confirmation.

PGA Rules Chairman, David Price, reviewed the stroke on video and confirmed that a loose impediment was moved during Pettersson’s backswing.

Pettersson was notified of the penalty as he left the fourth tee. His score for the par-4 first hole was a 6.

So your club can touch the grass and brush something like a branch as long as it’s implanted in the ground, but if it causes a “loose impediment,” such as The Leaf, then BAM! Two-shot penalty!

To be told you were assessed a two-shot penalty on the fourth tee could have completely thrown him off. As told to me by Golf Digest’s Dave Kindred, Pettersson’s reaction was — well, exactly what I’d expect and rather mild. The rules official informed him that the penalty had been confirmed and Carl said “f—” and kept walking. About 30 seconds later, he stopped and asked the official if he was sure. The answer was yes.

Tough break, but he was “pissed off in a good way” and used his anger to motivate him.

Pettersson birdied Nos. 4, 5 and 7. Without the penalty strokes, he would have made the turn with a four-under 32, eight-under total, and on the heels of McIlroy, who was 10-under through nine on Sunday.

“There was only one winner today, really,” said Pettersson after posting an even par 72 to finish tied for third. “Rory played great.  I played good enough on the front nine, though.  Who knows what would have happened, but Rory played great.

“Yeah, sucks for me, I would have finished second on my own.”

As the runner-up, Pettersson would have earned $865,000. Instead, he took home $384,500 — not a bad pay day — for finishing a four-way tie for third with Justin Rose, Keegan Bradley and Ian Poulter. Turned out the two shots cost him the difference of $480,500.

Now it’s not like he’s strapped for cash with over $3 million in earnings just in 2012 and $18.6 in his career. But to quote Petterssson, who knows, and it’s more of the principle that’s upsetting. Once again, it brings to light another flaw in the Rules of Golf.

“I’ve got to take it on the chin, obviously, but it’s one of those stupid rules, like Webb Simpson had where the ball moves a couple of  half a millimeter and it’s a penalty,” said Carl. “I didn’t even realize I moved it, because I’m trying to hit the ball.”

Speaking of Simpson, the 2012 U.S. Open champ tweeted:

Exactly. It’d make too much sense to use common sense.

ESPN columnist Ian O’Connor summed it up well with this tweet: “You can ground your club in the sand at the PGA but God forbid a stray leaf moves in the hazard on your backswing. Farce.”

Look, I get it. I’m not saying Pettersson didn’t break a rule or that we don’t need rules. But do I think it’s a fair or good one? No.

“Obviously I broke a rule there,” said Carl. “I didn’t realize it myself.  I don’t think it affected the outcome of the shot.  But just one of those things.  We have a lot of stupid rules in golf.”

As Pettersson mentioned, we’ve seen it happen before with Brian Davis at the Verizon Heritage in 2010. (Aside: Interesting going back to read what I wrote over two years ago!) It probably wouldn’t have mattered because Jim Furyk was on the green in two and putting for birdie. Thus, there wasn’t a huge fuss over the incident. Since Davis had called the penalty on himself, the focus was on his integrity and how golfers are better people, yada, yada, yada. (For the record, I’m a big fan of Brian Davis — awesome guy.)

Two strokes very penal something relatively minor. So let me ask you, did the punishment fit the crime? In my opinion, it didn’t. Maybe one shot, but there are other rules in golf that take into account intent and it’s clear as day that Pettersson didn’t intend to move The Leaf, which gave him no advantage whatsoever.

CBS’s David Feherty, the on-course announcer following Pettersson, McIlroy and Bo Van Pelt on Sunday, couldn’t have said it better.

“Why don’t professional golfers make rules for professional golfers?” Feherty asked as reported by “We’re the only sport that allows amateurs (to make rules). It’s not working for me if a guy is trying to make a living. A major championship may have hung in the balance.

“That (rule) is designed so an amateur doesn’t drag his club back and make a channel for themselves. What do you think would happen if a pro did that out there? I think we can account for that. How are you supposed to make a backswing? Use the club like a spear?”


Interesting enough, in two of the past three PGA Championships, there have been somewhat silly — and controversial — rules infractions that potentially impacted the outcome of the tournament. Oh, it gets better: the PGA of America official who informed Pettersson of Leafgate was David Price, the same official who notified Dustin Johnson that he’d grounded his club on the 72nd hole at Whistling Straits, also a Pete Dye joke design, aka Bunkergate.

Hopefully golf’s governing bodies will take a look at rule 14-3, along with several others, and execute some necessary changes. When these unfortunate infractions happen, it takes away from the tournament and makes the game look rather absurd.