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The explanation for Collin Morikawa’s penalty after this bizarre rules violation will probably hurt your head

December 03, 2023
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Collin Morikawa thought he would start Sunday's final round of the Hero World Challenge six shots back of leader Scottie Scheffler, but was hit with a two-shot penalty before his final round for a rules issue from Saturday.

Mike Ehrmann

NASSAU, Bahamas — The use of a measuring device on the practice putting green Saturday led to a two-stroke penalty being assessed to the third-round score of Collin Morikawa prior to his final round Sunday at the Hero World Challenge.

Stay with us. This is complicated. Or maybe convoluted.

Morikawa was assessed the penalty on the fourth hole at Albany for breach of Model Local Rule G-11, which details the restrictions on the use of greens-reading materials. On Saturday morning, Morikawa’s caddie, J.J. Jakovac, had used a level to gauge the degree of slope on the practice putting green and transferred the information to a chart in Morikawa’s yardage book, according to Stephen Cox, chief referee for the PGA Tour. Cox said that Morikawa and Jakovac utilized the information on the 484-yard par-4 fourth hole.

ShotLink data shows that Morikawa faced a 10-foot par putt on the fourth hole, which he missed. He tapped in for bogey.

“This is a very complicated rule,” said Cox, of the MLR that was instituted in 2022. “We respect the traditional methods of people wanting to have notes in a yardage book. There's something that has been going on for many years, and obviously when we drafted this Model Local Rule, we wanted to protect that some players and caddies take more notes than others. And we were very specific in the fact that these handwritten notes needed to be obtained through traditional methods to protect the fundamental skill of reading greens within our sport. And that's obviously the foundation behind why we put the model local rule into place.”

As Cox went on to explain, the use of the level isn’t in itself a breach of the rule. But writing it down in the yardage book is prohibited. “A lot of players use other formulas where they retain that information to memory,” Cox said. “And again, we've been very specific for those players that do use formulas. It's fine. You do need to retain that in your memory for you to take onto the course. Unfortunately, in this case, that formula was transferred into the book as a handwritten note and then subsequently used, and that's where the breach occurred.”

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A screen shot of Collin Morikawa's caddie, J.J. Jakovac, looking at his green-reading book on the fourth hole during Saturday's third round at the Hero World Challenge.

Cox said he was informed of the breach late Saturday, after Morikawa signed for a four-under 68 that left the two-time major winner at 10-under 206, six strokes behind leader Scottie Scheffler. Well after the round, Matt Fitzpatrick, who was playing with Morikawa, reached out via text to Cox to inquire generally about the MLR.

As Fitzpatrick explained it, he had talked to Morikawa and Jakovac during Saturday’s round. When he heard that Jakovac had put the numbers taken from the level in his green-reading book, Fitzpatrick said to them he was under the impression that that was in violation of the MLR from conversations Fitzpatrick and his team previously had with rules officials; Fitzpatrick was hoping to potentially do the same himself while using the AimPoint putting technique. Fitzpatrick said he forgot all about the conversation with Morikawa when they finished their round, but recalled it later in the evening, when he reached out to Cox.

“I asked the question, and he was like, well, now you've asked the question, I need you to tell me what's going on,” Fitzpatrick said.

On Sunday morning, Cox confirmed with Jakovac that he, indeed, had the chart in the yardage book. Cox, who said this was not the first time the rule had been breached on the PGA Tour, informed Morikawa of the two-stroke penalty on the practice range about 15 minutes before Morikawa’s 12:03 p.m. tee time with Tony Finau. Instead of starting six strokes back, Morikawa began the round eight behind.

“He was very frustrated,” Cox said of Morikawa. “It's a very complicated rule. Obviously when we implemented it back in 2022, there was a huge amount of information and conversations that we as a rules committee had with both player and caddie. Unfortunately, in this case, J.J. has fallen afoul of what is quite a complex rule.”

Indeed, when Morikawa spoke to the media after his round on Sunday, he did seem frustrated, primarily because he said that Jakovac had spoken previously to a rules official about being able to write the information in his green-reading book and had been told that it was within the rules to do so.

“From our understanding it was fine to use a level on the practice green and see how putts break and write that down. Obviously, it's not.

“Look,” Morikawa continued, “at the end of the day we made the mistake and it's on us. Thankfully it only happened that one time.”

Morikawa shot a four-under 68 on Sunday to finish in seventh place with a 12-under 276 total, eight shots back of Scheffler, the eventual champ. Without adding the two strokes, Morikawa would have tied for sixth with Jordan Spieth. Fortunately for Morikawa, the mistake was not too costly from a financial perspective. The difference in prize money was just $2,750.