PGA Championship 2023: Brooks Koepka's final-round rules issue, explained


Warren Little

Brooks Koepka, Sunday's eventual winner of the 2023 PGA Championship, looked completely in control of his golf swing at the start of the final round. Starting the day one stroke ahead of Viktor Hovland, the now five-time major winner proceeded to birdie the second, third and fourth holes at Oak Hill to get to nine under for the championship. It was a good thing, too, considering his playing partner, Viktor Hovland, birdied two of the first five holes as well.

But this is a major, and you’re not going to play perfectly the entire final round. On the sixth hole—a brutish dogleg-right par 4 measuring 503 yards—Koepka tried to hit a cut off the tee, but the ball faded too far, eventually landing in Allen’s Creek on the right side of the hole.


Suddenly, a big number—bogey 5, double-bogey 6 or worse—seemed to be in play as Koepka walked toward his ball and talked to rules official Ted Antonopoulos about how to proceed.

First, it had to be determined exactly where Koepka ball entered the penalty area, marked with red stakes. The official asked fans and volunteers in the area if they could help figure specifically where the ball entered the creek. CBS replay clearly showed Koepka’s ball clearing the first part of the water hazard—and a bridge that crosses it—then flies back over land closer to the adjacent seventh hole before crossing the hazard line a second time and landing in the marshland.


Warren Little

As Koepka talked to the official, the main question to be answered was how far up the hazard line was it before the ball entered the penalty area given the way the ball was fading off the tee.


Getty Images

At one point, CBS showed its TopTracer AI technology to identify to viewers on TV where the ball appeared to enter the hazard. The tracers seemed to confirm where Koepka and the official were looking for Koepka to take his drop and play what would now be his third shot with the one-stroke penalty for hitting it into the penalty area.


Using one of the relief options under Rule 17.1, Koepka dropped within two clublength of where it was determined the ball went in the penalty area. (He could have also dropped back away from the creek on a line from the hole through the point the ball entered the hazard or returned to the tee box) after taking the drop, Koepka had 191 yards to the hole (according to the PGA Championship website). With an iron, he blasted his shot to the back of the green, the ball stopping 47 feet from the hole.

From there, Koepka’s attempt at a par-saving putt had good pace, just missing three feet to the left of the hole. He made the bogey to fall back to eight under for the tournament, but still holding a one-shot lead over Hovland, who parred the hole.


Interestingly, a Model Local Rule was in place on the sixth hole this week that stated if a player's ball ended up in the seventh fairway off the sixth tee, it would be considered out of bounds. Koepka's shot wasn't going that far right, but that could have brought a whole other rules issue into play.

As the CBS commentators noted, Koepka never got flustered amid the potential chaos, which make the bogey 5 he walked away with all the more remarkable.

“Quite impressive how he went through that whole process,” said Trevor Immelman. “We could hear him, you could hear his voice. He didn’t sound like he was in a panic at all. He handled it really calmly, thought through his options, took in all the information and tried to limit the damage.”