Justin Rose found himself in the center of attention over an unprecedented rules incident this weekend at The Players Championship. Rose had resigned to accepting his fate — a two-shot penalty under Rule 18-2b for his ball moving ever so slightly behind the 18th green at TPC Sawgrass during the third round. Then, he arrived to the course on Sunday for his 12:35pm tee time and learned about 30 minutes prior that PGA Tour officials had decided to rescind the penalty.
The Tour issued a statement and the Vice President of Rules and Competition, Mark Russell, addressed the media and took questions in a press conference to explain the peculiar situation and series of events that ensued from Saturday evening and overnight into Sunday morning. Officials asked the game’s governing bodies, the R&A and the USGA, for advice in Rose’s case, which led them to the conclusion that Decision 18-4 should have been applied.
Rose patiently answered a barrage of questions after he signed for a three-under 69 in the final round — without incident this time. The evening before he even had started to question the initial decision to dock him two strokes after reading an article he read on the internet that explained the rule.
“I was mentioned in the article and somehow read it and, yeah, just the wording of the rule was that — because clearly in the moment I’ve made a judgment call that my ball hasn’t moved,” said Rose. “And if a player’s not able to discern if the ball has moved or it hasn’t moved, it’s deemed to have not moved. I think that’s paraphrasing, but the rule goes something like that, I believe.
“So anyway, I was willing to accept the way things played out last night and under 50 times magnification you could argue that there was a tiny bit of a roll towards the toe. I’m talking a hair or a millimeter or a quarter dimple or whatever it might be. The golf ball look like a Lego ball, it was so magnified. So it was incredibly intricate, it was something that was unusual to see it that way.
“But point being, what was I going to say? But point being I was willing to accept everything that happened last night and the error that I made in the moment was not calling the rules official, which kind of would have protected me, the two-shot penalty versus a one-shot penalty and that’s the learning curve that I take out of it. But quite clearly I didn’t know that this new recall was in place and it wasn’t really read to me last night either in the moment, so that was interesting, too.
“So, like I said, a light bulb went on when I was at home and I kind of scratched my head and I thought, well, that’s exactly how it happened on 18. What, it felt like very relevant to my case.
“And then didn’t think anything more of it, right, because what’s done is done. Got to the golf course, trying to put a good round of golf together today, and the phone was blowing up, some of the rules officials were trying to get ahold of him and I guess they were me, too, but I didn’t have my phone.
“I received the news that R&A, USGA, PGA TOUR had a lot of conversations and felt that, in this case, that rule applied perfectly to what I had just experienced the evening before.”
Rose justly questioned the situation, but was also alright with accepting the initial outcome — he only wanted to make sure he was playing by the correct rules.
“At that point I accepted it,” he said. “I didn’t even know this new rule applied. So, obviously, the wording is, if the player does not discernibly know, can see that the ball has moved it’s deemed not to have moved. I can’t think the word, the exact wording, but that then applied exactly to how the case played out for me on 18.
“So, it’s, like I said, listen, I fully accepted how it ended last night, and I totally believe that the new wording applied specifically to me today. So I kind of, I was just following exactly what the rules said on both sides.”
While he questioned it later on Saturday evening, he didn’t want to make a fuss.
“At the end of the day, I read (the rule in an article online), a light bulb went on, and I thought basically I went, wow, that sounds exactly like today,” said Rose. “I gave it three seconds more thought, never assumed this be would the case today, didn’t expect it to be the case, was just accepting what happened last night, rightly or wrongly.”
Why didn’t he call a rules official? Well, golf is a game where players police themselves, and really, what would it have accomplished had an official came over? The official would have asked Rose if he thought the ball had moved and Rose was adamant in his belief that it hadn’t, so the official would have said, OK, play on.
At the time, he just wanted to know if the ball had indeed changed positions.
“I wanted to know if it moved,” he said. “Because, obviously, like I said, in the moment, you make a judgment call that it didn’t move. And whether that’s with me and/or whether that’s I’m talking to the rules official, at that point it is your word against his and you got to play this game with your word. I truly felt that the ball hadn’t moved. So what was I going to call a rules official for.”
The whole situation was a bit of a distraction for him on Sunday morning prior to his tee time.
“It definitely, yeah, it was,” he said when asked. “It took me a lot of convincing myself that, right, okay, this is the position I’m in, let’s go and take advantage of it, let’s go out there and play as hard as I can and forget how I teed off at this point. Because obviously I’m teeing off an hour and a half ahead of the guys that I should have been playing with. So that in itself was strange.
“Then I get off to a good start too and I’m 10-under through the turn and beginning to put a run together. So, yeah, at that point it was all very interesting. Some interesting emotions.”
Rose took himself out of contention when he opened the back nine with three consecutive bogeys. However, he rallied back with birdies in three of the last four to finish strong.
“It was nice to give myself that feeling of a run today,” he said. “But felt fortunate to be in that position, obviously, with what had transpired the evening before.”
The leaders have four holes left to play and Rose is currently tied for third.
(Photo: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports)