MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Not that the wasteland that is social media should be any kind of guide – let’s face it, there’s no room in that hellscape for anything approaching an educated or nuanced conversation – but the vitriol created by Cameron Smith’s internet-bending rules violation at the FedEx St. Jude Championship requires some housekeeping.
The Rules of Golf can be confusing and overly complicated, but the avalanche of incorrect and distorted opinions over Smith’s two-stroke penalty for playing a shot from a hazard requires some addressing:
“The red [hazard] line is pretty stupid to begin with. Guys [already] taking a drop. Garbage like this and DJ's penalty in 2010 PGA Championship just makes me want to root for LIV to succeed!”
Not exactly sure of the logic in the above tweet text, but Smith’s penalty – like all penalties – are based on the Rules of Golf, which are written and maintained by the USGA and R&A, not the PGA Tour.
In fact, many in this same Twitter thread pointed out that longtime former Tour rules official Slugger White is now LIV Golf’s vice president of rules & competition management, and the Saudi-backed league also plays by the same Rules of Golf.
There are plenty of problems with the Rules of Golf, but they have nothing to do with the PGA Tour.
“I think they need to have unlimited time to address a violation. Even 5-10 years from now they could detect an error and DQ a player for failing to handle it properly and ask that prize money be returned. The round was over, it wasn’t handled.”
Also incorrect. While Tour officials regularly review possible violations and circle back around the next day to clarify things, like they did with Smith, when the final putt drops and a winner is crowned, the competition is closed. There is no going back at that point.
“Would they have done this to Rory or JT if they were in contention? Absolutely no way. PGA is officially a joke.”
We know conspiracy theories range from absurd to just troll jobs, but this is ridiculous to the extreme. In fact, most argue the game’s stars are held to a higher standard because they are more often shown during broadcast and are therefore under more scrutiny than a player who finishes well outside of contention.
There are countless examples of top players being penalized, but Rory McIlroy’s incident with officials at the 2019 Northern Trust, which was that season’s playoff opener, is a solid comp.
The Northern Irishman was penalized two shots during the second round for touching what he thought was a rock in a bunker but turned out to be a clump of sand. He was three shots off the lead at the time. That penalty was later rescinded by the rules committee after a more in-depth review of the new definition of the rule.
“Couch fan called it in and of course the [PGA Tour] accepted that rules officials word and reviewed it. There was a rules official with him at the time that didn't rule it. [Tour] failing again.”
It’s a common misconception that there’s a rules official with every group. That is not correct. There was an official “in the area” who could have been called in to help Smith better understand the rule, and that’s always an option. It’s also worth noting that Ryan Palmer, who was paired with Smith on Saturday, even suggested he call an official for clarity if he wasn’t sure, but Smith did not.
Full-field scores from FedEx St. Jude Championship
Also, officials stopped taking call-ins for potential violations years ago. It was an on-site rules official who was watching Saturday’s re-air who suggested the committee take another look at the drop, and it was Smith who admitted that his ball was on the line.
“Masters winner Scheffler is a strong opponent of LIV. And in the first round in Memphis, the American blatantly walked across the putting line of his playing partner Smith on the 12th green before a birdie attempt. The Aussie looked at him in disbelief.”
Scottie Scheffler is a supporter of the PGA Tour in the ongoing rift with LIV Golf and he did walk by Smith during Thursday’s opening round, but he did not walk across or through his line. Scheffler told reporters that when he realized what he’d done he tracked Smith down to apologize for any slight, either real or perceived.
The two even jokingly concocted a plan to have a “stare-down” during Friday’s second round, but neither could keep a straight face long enough to pull it off.
There’s enough animosity between those loyal to the Tour and those who have bolted for LIV Golf, but neither the penalty nor Scheffler’s snafu had anything to do with the start-up league.
“Really tough break. It was the right call. He handled it very well, classy guy.”
This one is actually correct. Smith did handle the news well and it was the right call, regardless of what many on social media might think.
“[Smith’s] answer to me is, ‘The rules are the rules,’” said Gary Young, the PGA Tour’s chief referee. “He just accepted the two-stroke penalty … he very calmly left the office and he's just going about his business for the day.”