Wyndham Clark's rough situation had Golf Twitter howling for a penalty

March 09, 2024

Wyndham Clark walks up the 18th hole during the third round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Mike Ehrmann

With a mere couple of taps of his club behind a ball in the rough on Saturday, reigning U.S. Open champ Wyndham Clark caused a stir on the NBC broadcast of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, and, of course, in many golf corners of social media.

Clark, who is solo third after three rounds at Bay Hill, drove into the heavy rough to the right of the 18th fairway. As he pondered his club choice and angle of escape, NBC showed a closeup of his ball in the heavy rough, with Clark setting his wedge down a couple of times very close to the ball. The view also made it look like Clark pushed the sole of his club deep into the rough.

Within minutes, fans on social media were crying penalty—either for the ball possibly moving or for Clark improving his lie by tamping down the grass. Both are a no-no in the Rules of Golf.

And there was this reminder of a similar controversy with Jon Rahm when he won the 2020 Memorial after agreeing that video showed his ball slightly moving at address before he holed out a chip. He was assessed a one-shot penalty, but still prevailed in what was then his biggest victory.

As noted in that controversy, a player has to be able to see the movement with the "naked eye," and if it's determined that he couldn't, that can't be overruled by a very tight camera closeup or slow motion.

To NBC anchor Dan Hick’s credit, he jumped on the subject not long after Clark hit the shot, punching out to the fairway in what would ultimately result in a bogey that knocked Clark out of a tie for the lead. NBC quickly went to PGA Tour rules official Mark Dusbabek, who monitors play from his own trailer at the course.

It's never a good sign when the normally assertive Dusbabek hedges, but he did this time. “Dan, that makes my heart flutter as well,” he said. Still, Dusbabek added that “for a ball to move, based on the definition, it has to go to a different spot. It can move, as long as it comes back to its original spot. When I watch the tape, it looks like it comes back.”

Hicks didn’t let it go, though, by mentioning the possible improvement of Clark’s lie. After a commercial, Dusbabek again was hardly steadfast when he said, “I know Dan that it looks bad, that maybe he’s trying to improve [his lie].”

Dusbabek then taught us a new acronym—CAT (conditions that affect the stroke) and said there “wasn’t enough there” to think that Clark had affected the conditions. “A player is allowed to ground his club with the weight of the club against the ground. That’s basically what he’s doing right there," he said.

Ultimately, Dusbabek sided with Clark’s actions: “I feel his ball didn’t move and he did nothing to affect his stroke.”

In the booth with Hicks, both Brad Faxon and Luke Donald seemed uncomfortable with the situation.

“It didn’t look like the weight of his club; there was definitely pressure pushing down on [the rough],” Faxon said. “I don’t know whether there was intent there.”

Donald said, “You need to be a little more careful with that club so we’re not talking about this. Because he was laying up anyway. What’s the advantage of trying to improve that lie.”

Clark wasn't asked about the situation during his formal post-round interview, but golf reporter Espen Blaker posted on X that the player confirmed that in the scoring room, rules officials reviewed the video with him and playing partner Scottie Scheffler and found no penalty. Blaker reported that Clark said, "I didn't try to cheat."

The subject could come up on Sunday, especially if Clark wins. After shooting even-par 71 on Saturday, the 30-year-old stands one shot of the lead of Scheffler and Shane Lowry. He's seeking his fourth tour win and second since he captured the U.S. Open last summer at Los Angeles Country Club.