11 times the rules of golf were broken, sometimes in bizarre fashion

By T.J. Auclair
Published on
11 times the rules of golf were broken, sometimes in bizarre fashion

The Rules of Golf are long and, many would admit, complicated.

Players at the highest levels are under the microscope like never before. HDTV cameras pick up things the naked eye can't see.

What's worse than being guilty of an infraction that you don't even know you committed? Thankfully, that changed with new "Decision 34-3/10: Limitations on Use of Video Evidence" but not before it costs Lexi Thompson a major. More on that shortly.

The Rules of Golf are meant to protect the integrity of the game. They do that for the most part.

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But there are circumstances were we see the funny, the odd and even the maddening play out.

Here are 11 notable rules penalties.

11. Phil Mickelson's two-stroke penalty at the 2018 Greenbrier Classic

What happened: As Phil prepared to tee off on the 7th hole on Sunday at the 2018 Greenbrier Classic, he walked to the front of the tee box and tapped down some fescue. A microphone for the television broadcast picked up Lefty saying he wasn't sure if what he had done was illegal. After consulting with a rules official, it turns out it was – in violation of Rule 13-2 for improving his line of play.

Mickelson assessed himself a two-stroke penalty for the incident. Ultimately, it didn't affect the outcome of the tournament as Mickelson finished tied for 65th, 18 strokes behind winner Kevin Na.

10. Ryuji Imada's 26-shot penalty at the 2010 Mission Hills Star Trophy in China

What happened: OK -- this one falls on Imada for not reading a tournament notice, but we also feel a bit of sympathy for the former PGA Tour winner because this is clearly a case of "the rules are the rules... until there's a 'local rule.'"

The first round was being played with lift, clean and place due to soft conditions. Imada assumed that under that rule, he was entitled to place his golf ball within one club-length of its original spot, as is the case on the PGA Tour.

However, the rules are a little different -- sometimes -- on the Asian and European Tours, which sanctioned this particular event. The local rule stated that players could place the ball only within the length of one scorecard of its original position.

Danny Lee pointed out the infraction to Imada when they reached the 12th hole. Imada informed officials after the round of what he'd done. While he couldn't remember the exact number of times he had improved his position more than what was allowed, Imada guessed it was probably around 13 times.

As a result, he was assessed 13 two-stroke penalties -- 26 penalty strokes total -- and signed for a 24-over-par 97. Not an ideal start.

9. Raymond Floyd's two, two-shot penalties in first round of the 1987 Players Championship

What happened: OK. This one goes way back, but we felt it was notable because of the weird/unlikely factor.

As caddies sometimes do, Floyd's walked ahead of him before he teed off on the 11th hole at TPC Sawgrass. When the caddie reached the yardage around where his boss was likely to end up, he put the golf bag down in the rough with the top portion of the bag facing the tee.

You probably know where this is going...

Floyd's tee ball rolled into the rough and -- get this -- right into his own golf bag. That violated "Rule 19-2: Ball deflected or stopped by equipment of player or partner." It resulted in a two-shot penalty.

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In the same round, there was a rain delay. When players returned to the course after the delay, Floyd asked playing partner Seve Ballesteros if he could hit a few golf balls -- before play officially resumed -- into the woods by the sixth tee to loosen up. Ballesteros obliged.

That violated Rule 33-2c, prohibiting players from practicing in non-practice areas on any day or between rounds of a stroke-play competition. The penalty for that infraction is two strokes.

8. Jeff Maggert's two-shot penalty in the final round of the 2003 Masters

What happened: Maggert began the final round of the 2003 Masters with a two-shot lead over eventual champion Mike Weir.

The adage: "Sometimes, it's just not your day," never rang truer than what would be Maggert's fate that Sunday at Augusta National.

Playing the 350-yard, par-4 third hole, Maggert's tee shot with a 2-iron found a fairway bunker. No big deal, you'd think.

From 106 yards out, Maggert selected his 53-degree wedge to play his approach shot. However, the ball clipped the lip of the bunker, bounced backward and hit Maggert in the chest.

Like Floyd years before him, this was another case of Rule 19-2b and Maggert called a two-stroke penalty on himself for the ball "accidentally hitting a player, his caddie, or his equipment."

He would hole an 18-footer for a triple-bogey 7 and fell two behind Weir. A quintuple-bogey 8 later on the par-3 12th, with two water balls, did Maggert in. He would finish fifth.

7. Brian Davis incurs two-stroke playoff during playoff at 2010 Heritage

What happened: We all know that golf is the ultimate game of honor.

Few examples of that are better than this Davis ordeal at the 2010 Heritage, where he was trying to win for the first time on the PGA Tour.

Davis was tied for the lead with Jim Furyk after 72 holes and the pair headed back to the 18th tee at Harbour Town for the first hole of a playoff.

After hitting his approach shot on the par 4, Davis was in the hazard left of the green. Naturally, being that this was a playoff, he went into the hazard to attempt to play his shot out of it.

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The thing about a hazard is you cannot move anything inside a hazard while playing your shot. When Davis hit his third shot, he just barely nicked a reed on his takeaway and immediately called a penalty on himself for the infraction, a violation of Rule 13.4 for moving a loose impediment in a hazard.

Furyk would win the tournament with a par and Davis is still looking for his first Tour win.

6. Bryson DeChambeau's use of a drawing compass on the golf course

What happened: In an unconventional move, DeChambeau pulled out a compass at the Travelers Championship in June 2018, but apparently that was far from the first time he's used one on a golf course. He had reportedly been using one for almost two years.

The USGA announced a few weeks later that DeChambeau's compass usage would violate Rule 14-3, which prohibits players from using an artifical device or unusual equipment that might assist him.

5. Dustin Johnson's one-stroke penalty at the 2016 U.S. Open


What happened: After playing 13 holes at Oakmont in the final round of the 2016 U.S. Open, Dustin Johnson had a one-stroke advantage over Shane Lowry.

At that moment, he was informed of a potential rules infraction that happened on No. 5 when his golf ball moved on the green just as he was addressing it. At the time, Johnson called in a rules official and explained that his ball moved, but he didn't believe he caused it to move. The official told him to play on without penalty.

However, as the round continued, officials took a closer look at the video and believed Johnson did in fact cause the ball to move. If he did, it would mean a one-shot penalty.

Unfortunately, the decision wouldn't be made until after the round meaning a bunch of players didn't know where they stood -- including Johnson with five holes to play. Was he still one stroke ahead? Was he tied for the lead?

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In the end, it was a moot point. Johnson would be assessed the one-stroke penalty for moving his ball, but won the tournament anyway. Still, it was a confusing two hours for players and spectators.

Later in 2016, golf's governing bodies introduced a new rule to eliminate the penalty when a ball is accidentally moved on a green. Under the new rule, "When a player's ball lies on the putting green, there is no penalty if the ball or ball-marker is accidentally moved by the player, his partner, his opponent, or any of their caddies or equipment. The moved ball or ball-marker must be replaced as provided in Rules 18-2, 18-3 and 20-1."

4. Dustin Johnson's two-stroke penalty on the 72nd hole at the 2010 PGA Championship

What happened: Johnson, with a one-shot lead, was on the 18th hole in the final round of the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits looking for his first major win.

After his drive went right, Johnson found himself on a patch of sand. Though the sand wasn't marked as a bunker, there were warnings handed to players and posted in the locker room throughout the week, informing all competitors that all sandy areas at Whistling Straits -- inside and outside the ropes -- would be played as bunkers as opposed to waste areas. This meant that players would not be allowed to ground their clubs when in such an area.

Johnson didn't believe that his situation on the 18th hole fell under the local rule. He thought the area he was in was dirt instead of sand.

Unfortunately for him, he was wrong. What would have been a bogey to fall into a playoff, instead led to a crushing triple bogey that kept Johnson two strokes out of the playoff.

3. College golfer David Wicks gets two-stroke penalty for missing golf ball



What happened: The rules for finiding a missing ball are pretty straight forward. You have five minutes to do so and -- if you can't find the ball -- you're assessed a two-stroke penalty.

Not all penalties are created equal, however. In the case of David Wicks, a senior from Jacksonville University playing in the 2017 Baton Rouge Regional last May, he didn't even hit a bad shot -- or a shot at all -- when his ball went missing.

Wicks marked his ball on the 13th green, three feet from the hole and put the ball in his pocket. When he reached into the same pocket moments later to pull out his scorecard, the ball fell out, hit his shoe and rolled into a pond at the edge of the green.

NCAA rules state that a player must find their personal ball to continue the hole without penalty. That meant Wicks stripped down to his underwear and jumped into the pond in an attempt to find and replace his ball.

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After a five-minute search, Wicks found 20 golf balls, but none of them was his own. Therefore, he was assessed a two-stroke penalty.

There was a silver lining, however, as Wicks and his teammates did manage to qualify for Nationals despite the crazy penalty.

Believe it or not, a similar situation played out at the 2004 Players Championship with Ian Poulter, but his trainer at the time was able to retrieve the ball and no penalty was assessed.



2. Phil Mickelson chases after, hits moving ball on green at 2018 U.S. Open

What happened: The five-time major champion -- a six-time runner-up in the U.S. Open, the only major he has yet to win -- stunned the golf world at Shinnecock Hills when he hit his moving golf ball back toward the hole on the 13th green after a missed bogey putt.

It was reminiscent of John Daly hitting a moving ball at Pinehurst No. 2 in the 1999 U.S. Open.

Mickelson would shoot an 11-over 81 in the third round that dropped him to 17 over for the week and in 65th place.

He said he knew the ball was going to roll off the green, which is why he decided to hit it while it was still moving.

Here's a look at Rule 14-5:

Rule 14: Striking the Ball

5. Playing Moving Ball

A player must not make a stroke at his ball while it is moving.


— Ball falling off tee (Rule 11-3)

— Striking the ball more than once (Rule 14-4)

— Ball moving in water (Rule 14-6)

When the ball begins to move only after the player has begun the stroke or the backward movement of his club for the stroke, he incurs no penalty under this Rule for playing a moving ball, but he is not exempt from any penalty under Rule 18-2 (Ball at rest moved by player).

Penalty for Breach of Rule 14-5:

Match play — Loss of hole; Stroke play — Two strokes.

"No question it was going to go down in the same spot behind the bunker, I wasn’t going to have a shot," he said. "I don’t know if I would have been able to save a shot or whatnot, but I know it’s a two-shot penalty hitting a moving ball, I tried to hit it as close to the hole as I could to make the next one. You take the two shots and move on."

1. Lexi Thompson's two-stroke penalty at the 2017 ANA Inspiration for improperly replacing golf ball AND two-stroke penalty for unknowingly signing for an incorrect score






What happened: Sometimes, the penalty doesn't fit the crime. That seemed to be the case here for Lexi Thompson, especially when you consider the circumstances.

Thompson had a two-stroke lead through 12 holes in the final round of the LPGA's first major of the season. But, she really didn't.

As Thompson walked off the 12th green, she was stopped by an official. The official informed the LPGA star that Thompson was going to be assessed two, two-stroke penalties for infractions that happened 24 hours earlier in the third round.

Say what?

A television viewer noticed that Thompson improperly replaced her ball from inside of 2 feet on the 17th green. The video was reviewed and Thompson was docked two shots.

As a result of that penalty -- which she wasn't aware of following round 3 -- Thompson then also signed for an incorrect score. Instead of a 67, she should have had a 69. Until recently, that in itself would have led to a disqualification.

An emotional Thompson would rally at the ANA, but lost on the first hole of a playoff.

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Shortly after that unfortunate incident, the rule was immediately changed. Many call Decision 34-3/10: Limitations on Use of Video Evidence the "Lexi Rule."

The rule is in regard to "naked eye" and "reasonable judgment" limitations on the use of video and other evidence.