Johnson ‘lucky’ rule violation wasn’t costly

It seems innocent enough. Your ball is in the line of another player and you move your marker to the side so as to be out of his way. However, you forget to move the ball to its original position and putt out. Oops! While it may seem a little severe for what appears to be a minor violation, this calls for a two-stroke penalty.

This is exactly what happened to Zach Johnson on the final green at the Colonial Country Club. It first appeared he made a four-footer for an apparent par after blasting out of the bunker for a three-stroke margin of victory over Jason Dufner.

I remember one of the announcers on television asking if Johnson had returned his marker. This was observed by a rules official and Johnson suffered the penalty, but still won his second Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial title in the past three years. If this had happened after he signed his scorecard, Johnson would have been disqualified.

Why didn’t his caddy notice? Johnson quickly took the blame, saying Damon Green was busy raking the bunker and had not seen him move the mark to one side. “There were a lot of adjectives going through my head and lucky would be the biggest one I can think of,” he told the media.
At a rules seminar a few years ago, there was a similar rules occurrence that created a bizarre finish to a Ben Hogan Tour event—now the Nationwide Tour. John Flannery and Esteban Toledo were playing the third hole of a playoff. Toledo missed the green and chipped to within eight feet. Flannery missed his birdie putt and marked his ball three feet away. Toledo asked Flannery to move his mark to the side. Toledo missed his par putt and put down a marker 15 inches away. Flannery forgot to move his ball back when replacing it and stroked in for what he thought was a winning par. Toledo’s caddy picked up his marker, thinking the playoff was finished. Wait a minute! That’s when everyone realized that Toledo had not putted from the right spot. He was penalized two strokes and finished with a double bogey. However, Toledo could not claim victory with a bogey. He had to return to the spot 15 inches away and tap in for a double bogey, adding a penalty stroke. As it turned out, the mental lapse did not cost Flannery. He won the playoff with a par on the next hole. However, Toledo may have had a few words for his caddy.

If the above circumstances had happened in match play, Flannery would have lost the hole when he played from the wrong place.
In another interesting case, a player put his ball down behind a fellow competitor’s mark by
mistake. He missed that putt. Realizing his mistake, he picked up the ball and putted from the correct place. It was then he discovered that he was penalized four strokes—two from playing from the wrong place and two for not replacing the ball that was in play.

I heard that one professional turns the coin to the tails side when he does this instead of following his general practice of leaving heads up. This serves as a reminder to move the ball back. That’s a good idea.

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