An obscure rule stumped the announcers twice during the Matt Kuchar-Scottie Scheffler match

March 28, 2021

Darren Carroll

Nick Faldo said he’d never known the rule in his 40-plus years as a professional golfer. Then it happened on back-to-back holes.

An obscure match-play rule came up twice during the Sunday’s semifinals match between Matt Kuchar and Scottie Scheffler at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. The first instance happened on Austin Country Club’s par-5 12th, where water guards the left side of the putting surface. Scheffler played first from the fairway and pulled his approach left into the drink, meaning he’d have to drop where his ball entered the hazard before playing his fourth.

Kuchar played next from the left rough and managed to find the front-right portion of the putting surface. Shotlink had his ball at 87 feet, eight inches from the cup, leaving a lengthy eagle putt. Scheffler then took his drop and had 77 yards in for his fourth.

That’s where things got a little funky: Kuchar played first, despite his ball being a good 50 yards closer to the hole.

Huh? One of the first rules of match-play golf is the player further from the hole plays first. So what happened here?

The answer lies in Rule 6.4b(1), which details the order of play when a player has a choice to play the ball as it lies or take relief. Scheffler technically fell into this camp, despite his ball lying at the bottom of lake. Theoretically he could play his ball—as opposed to his ball being out of bounds, where he would be forbidden from playing it—or take relief from the hazard, which of course was the obvious choice.

The rule states, “the player’s order of play is based on the spot where the original ball lies [which if not known must be estimated].” So, where Scheffler’s ball lied after his drop is irrelevant to the order of play. Only the position of the original ball. Both players determined that Scheffler’s ball, although being at the bottom of the lake, was actually closer to the hole than Kuchar’s ball on the very front of the putting surface.

Kuchar, knowing the advantage that comes with hitting your ball close and putting pressure on your opponent to match that, promptly cozied his ball up within three feet. Scheffler hit a clunker and conceded the hole shortly thereafter.

The situation fascinated/puzzled Golf Channel broadcasters, and required further explanation by the resident rules expert, Steve Rintoul of the PGA Tour.

And then it happened again the very next hole.

A similar situation played out, this time on the drivable par-4 13th. Kuchar played first and hit his ball well right of the green, on dry land. Then Scheffler hit his ball right on line with the flag, but it flew about two yards too short and found water again. But again, Scheffler’s original ball lied closer to the hole than Kuchar’s, so Kuchar played his second from 30 yards before Scheffler played his third from 159 yards.

Just when you think you know everything about this game.