124th U.S. Open

Pinehurst No. 2


USGA executive says incorrect relief given to Rory McIlroy during U.S. Open final round


Rory McIlroy attempts to find his golf ball on the 14th hole, which had embedded in the sod above a greenside bunker during the final round of the 123rd U.S. Open.

David Cannon

Rory McIlroy remains the runner-up of the 2023 U.S. Open. But a little more than a week after he finished one shot short of Wyndham Clark at Los Angeles Country Club, a USGA executive acknowledged that a free drop McIlroy received during a critical moment of the final round was incorrectly administered.

In an interview with Sports Illustrated, USGA Chief Governance Officer Thomas Pagel said that onsite referee Courtney Myhrum, a veteran rules official and member of the USGA Executive Committee, properly ruled that McIlroy was entitled to free relief from an embedded ball under Rule 16.3 after his third shot on the par-5 14th hole lodged into a sod wall above a greenside bunker. However, after further review, Pagel noted that the place in the “general area” of the embedded ball from which McIlroy took his point of relief was mis-identified.

As McIlroy, who trailed Clark at the time by one shot, and Myhrum walked through McIlroy’s options, they used a spot to the side of McIlroy’s embedded ball to begin measuring the one club length area in which he could receive relief. Pagel said that instead there was a spot immediately behind the ball that could have still been deemed “the general area” that should have been used as the reference point.

"When you start dealing with vertical faces, that’s where the question is," Pagel told Sports Illustrated. "In this case, there was a lot going on. But there was a place behind the ball where he could have started to measure."

Had McIlroy used the spot behind the ball, he still could have measured the club length to the right of that spot and taken a drop on the same shelf from which he played his fourth shot (he could not drop his ball in the bunker under the rules). Pagel says the difference would have been likely no more than 18 inches from where he played his shot, essentially leaving McIlroy the same difficult pitch to a sloping green.

McIlroy hit his fourth shot nine feet past the hole and was unable to convert the par attempt, recording his lone bogey of the round. When Clark birdied the hole in the group after, Clark took a three-shot lead that gave him the cushion needed to hold on to the title after bogeying the 15th and 16th holes.

While acknowledging the mistake regarding where the relief was taken, Pagel made the point of exonerating McIlroy of any mis-doing.

"From where he started measuring from, he didn’t get a break. And he did all of this at the discretion of the referee," Pagel said. “He wasn’t doing anything to gain an advantage and as he was told how to apply the rule on where to drop."