Many of you (readers) questioned the ruling that official Jon Brendle doled to Andres Gonzales on the ninth hole during the first round at the Byron Nelson Championship. And to be honest, initially, I was confused why he wasn’t under penalty since he grounded the club and then the ball moved. But after speaking with Brendle and Andres, I have a clearer understanding of the circumstances.
Dres hadn’t settled his feet or addressed the ball yet. If you watch the video closely, you’ll see that he never puts the club down directly behind that ball to address it. He placed the club to the back, left of the ball.
“I never ground my club close to the ball,” said Dres via a phone call. “I always ground it at least three inches behind it. I was getting ready to get set up, but I hadn’t addressed it.”
He was surprised he wasn’t under penalty because the ball moved after he grounded the club, and before the ruling, he had already mentally added a shot to his score.
When Brendle, a longtime, highly-respected PGA Tour rules official, arrived to the scene, he asked Dres to show him what he had done. Brendle felt he had put it too far behind the ball to have caused it to move. Since the “lift, clean and place” rule was in effect, Brendle asked Dres if he had already done that, which he had. Dres had placed the ball on a tuft of grass.
“That told me it’d fallen off of (the tuft of grass),” Brendle said on the phone. “There was just no doubt in my mind. Because of where he had put the club, he didn’t cause the ball to move…When he showed me what he did, he was too far behind the ball and left. He wasn’t really taking his stance. He put the club way behind (the ball). It wasn’t really out where you play from.”
Brendle said had he put the club down directly behind the ball, it would have been a penalty and Andres would have had to move the ball back to its original position. The other officials were split on the decision, but Brendle made the call. He acknowledged it was an unusual situation. In fact, it was the first time he hadn’t thought a player was under penalty due to the circumstances.
Andres, who missed the cut, was relieved it wasn’t a penalty, but he felt “weird” initially.
“It almost felt like I was cheating because I grounded my club and the ball moved, but the official said I wasn’t under penalty,” said Andres. “Obviously I was glad it wasn’t. So were my playing partners. No one wants anyone to get a penalty.”
Rule 18-2b is the same rule that the USGA is in the process of changing after the controversy that ensued due to several players receiving penalties which may have impacted the result of tournaments — namely Webb Simpson at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. For that reason, Andres felt slightly uncomfortable about the situation.
“Since they’re in the middle of changing the rule (18-2) and that was the first time it happened on camera, the whole thing was weird,” he said. “I don’t know, I was given a different ruling than I expected.”
Brendle explained the difference between what happened with Simpson and Andres. “Webb was going into his shot,” he said. “Andres was not really going into his shot. He had pulled the club away and he was looking at his ball.
“That’s the first time I’ve thought a guy wasn’t under penalty. Normally, they are.”
Brendle offered another interesting ruling anecdote. Right after he dealt with Andres, he was called over by Charles Warren, who had a question. Under the “lift, clean and place” rule, the players are given a club length to place the ball from the original position, no closer to the hole.
Warren’s ball was within a club length of a sprinkler head. He asked Brendle if he could place the ball on the sprinkler and then take relief from there. The answer was yes. What’s more, after the drop, Warren’s ball was once again in a new position and he was allowed to lift, clean and place it another club length.
“He ended up moving it three club lengths and changing the shot completely under the rules,” said Brendle.
Knowing the rules usually works to your advantage! And no, Warren’s actions didn’t violate the spirit of the game, in my humble opinion.