- Paul Childs/Reuters
Jon Rahm picked up his first win on the European Tour with a convincing six-stroke win at the Irish Open, a win that will certainly make the Spaniard one of the favorites at the Open Championship in two weeks.
However, the win was not without controversy as officials decided not to penalize Rahm for a mis-marked ball on a green, ruling that there was no intent to break the rules. Instead of having to play the final six holes with a smaller lead and the weight of a recently added penalty, Rahm got to cruise the back-nine to an easy win.
Rahm entered the day tied with American Daniel Im at 17-under. However, by the Par 3 No. 6, Rahm had taken a two-stroke lead over Scotland’s David Drysdale as Im fell to four back.
Controversy then came on the sixth green when Rahm’s long birdie putt ended on top of Im’s ball marker.
This led to some confusion as to how to mark Rahm’s ball.
Rahm eventually marked his ball twice, once to move his ball marker off of Im’s and a second time to give Im space to putt his ball.
In this video, we see Rahm initially mark his ball to the side. You can then see Rahm look for something off the green to visually line up his second mark, which moved his ball marker the width of his putter to the side.
Initially there was some confusion by those watching on television because the live broadcast did not show Rahm re-mark the second wide mark, suggesting he played the ball 2-3 inches from where he should have been putting from.
However, replays later clearly showed that Rahm did indeed move the marker back the width of the putter, even looking for his visual marker off the green to make sure he moved the ball in the correct direction.
The actual issue came on the second mark. While Rahm’s first mark had been to the side of the ball, when he went to place the ball, he did so in front of the marker.
Here we can see how Rahm initially marked the ball (left) and later where he placed the ball (right).
- The Golf Channel
While a two-stroke penalty at this point would have dropped Rahm into a tie for the lead, he was not approached about the incident until the 13th hole.
- The Golf Channel
Rahm and the official eventually conferred with Im on what happened. Rahm walked away from the meeting smiling, as he already knew that his explanation of not intending to break the rules had been accepted and there would be no penalty.
Andy McFee, the chief referee of the Euopean Tour, later explained that Rahm told him that he thought he tried to place the ball back to the side of the marker. McFee said he believed Rahm had made a reasonable effort to do so, and that the difference in spots was “maybe a couple of millimeters,” comparing the placement to spots on a clock face.
“A lot of this is obscurred by Jon’s hand, so there is a little bit of guesswork involved,” McFee said during the broadcast. “We’re talking about the difference between say 10 o’clock and 11 o’clock and a couple of millimeters… Do I think he got the ball exactly back in the right place? No, I don’t. I think the ball is slightly in the wrong place, but we’re talking about maybe a couple of millimeters here and there. But then that falls within the limitation of video evidence and we just come down to, ‘Has the player made a reasonable judgement?’ and I believe he has.”
Rahm had six holes to play at the time and a five-stroke lead. He eventually won by six, so it is easy to dismiss the controversy. However, it is also easy to imagine a three-stroke lead being harder to protect if the penalty had been issued and the lead was suddenly a lot smaller.