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Here's why Russell Knox was hit with a costly one-shot penalty while in contention Sunday at Pebble Beach

February 14, 2021

Russell Knox talks with a rules official on the first hole during the final round of the 2021 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

Ezra Shaw

PEBBLE BEACH — For the second straight day, a player in contention at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am was dealt a one-shot penalty after accidentally causing his ball to move.

A day after Maverick McNealy was penalized for a similar situation, Russell Knox was given the extra shot on Sunday. The infraction happened on the first hole of the final round, as Knox—who began the day 11 under and just two shots off of the lead while playing in the penultimate threesome—was standing over his approach shot in the fairway. As he prepared to hit the shot, the 35-year-old Scotsman grounded his club, picked it up and waggled it. As he started to set his club down again, he saw the ball roll slightly.

Knox called over a rules official, which forced the final group to wait on the tee for an extra few minutes. Knox and the official had the following exchange, which was shown by Golf Channel:

Knox: I’m getting ready. The club went down for sure. Then another waggle and the ball moved … and then it moved again about a minute later.

The official asked Knox to take him through the sequence again.

Knox: I was over it. My initial club definitely hit the ground. Then I was up and I waggled again and looked down and the ball had moved a little bit.

Official: A lot of time in the air. [inaudible] … Play it as it lies.

Knox: The ball did move again like 30 second later.

Official: You weren’t doing anything?

Knox: No.

Essentially, Knox was suggesting that the ball moved while his club was in the air—which would imply that he did not cause the ball to move. His playing partner, Daniel Berger, sought clarification on that point, and the official noted that as long as there is any time between the club being on the ground and the ball moving, there is no penalty.

Knox then proceeded as though there was no penalty. He parred the first hole then birdied the second and third to pull within a shot of the lead. It was not until after Knox hit his tee shot on the par-3 fifth that he was told by another rules official that the tour had re-assessed the situation and decided Knox had likely caused the ball to move, thus resulting in a one-shot penalty under Rule 9-4. When Knox bogeyed the fifth hole, that dropped him to three shots off the lead.

Here's a video of the incident:

McNealy’s problems came on the fifth hole on Saturday—as he approached a delicate chip from over the green, he laid his club down on the grass and the ball tumbled forward. Like Knox, McNealy immediately called over an official, but in McNealy’s case, the penalty was assessed immediately, rather than four holes and one hour later.

If you’re thinking, I thought they changed this rule, you’re right. Kind of. After the messy situation at the 2016 U.S. Open, when Dustin Johnson was penalized for accidentally moving his ball on the putting green, that rule was indeed changed as part of the 2019 updating of the rulebook—but only for balls on the green. If you accidentally cause your ball to move on the putting green, it is no longer a penalty. But if you can determine with virtual certainty that you caused the ball to move, albeit accidentally, anywhere but on the putting green, it’s a penalty.