DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Whoever knew dropping a golf ball could cost a player $400,000?
That’s just what happened to Englishman Ian Poulter on Sunday when he went to replace his ball on his marker – a lucky coin featuring his children’s names – and dropped it from a few inches above the ground, falling victim to one of golf’s more arcane rules.
The blunder cost Poulter a shot and helped Swede Robert Karlsson win $1.25 million at the Dubai World Championship, the final event of the European Tour season.
“The coin was one way and the next minute facing the other way,” Poulter said. “If it pitches in the middle, the coin doesn’t move and it’s fine, but it’s pitched on the front and it’s flipped over.”
Poulter’s second prize is impressive nonetheless at $833,000.
Poulter and Karlsson were locked in a playoff on the 18th hole of the Dubai Earth course after four rounds in the desert where both finished at 14 under. The first playoff hole was tied and on the second playoff hole – again on the 18th – Poulter left himself with a massive 40-foot putt while Karlsson’s chip to the green landed within 4 feet of the pin.
But as the English golfer marked his ball, it slipped from his grasp and fell on the marker, which jumped in the air and turned over.
Poulter let the match referee know immediately.
“Ian Poulter called me over just after he had marked the ball on the 18th and told me he had dropped his ball onto the ball marker which caused the ball marker to move, it just flipped over,” chief match referee Andy McFee said. “This incurred a one stroke penalty.”
So instead of trying to force another playoff hole, Poulter realized his putt was for a 5. Poulter shrugged, putted and missed, while Karlsson holed his short putt. The gallery of a couple of thousand spectators was unaware of the drama.
Rule 20-1/15 is the one that impacted Poulter.
“Any accidental movement of the ball marker which occurs before or after the specific act of marking, including as a result of dropping the ball, regardless of the height from which it was dropped … results in the player incurring a one stroke penalty,” McFee said in a statement.
Poulter insisted he would stick with the platinum coin despite Sunday’s events.
“It was my lucky coin that I made at the start of the year,” he said. “It’s still going to stay lucky.”
Karlsson said after the tournament ended that Poulter had told him of the ruling before they finished the second playoff hole, but he had not been sure the ruling would stand. Regardless, Karlsson’s putt was much shorter.
“These things happen in golf. It’s not the way you want to win,” the 41-year-old Swede said. “The rules are there for a reason but some of them can be tough.”
Poulter’s friend and rival Rory McIlroy was quick to see the funny side, even if Poulter’s mistake cost him more than $400,000.
He tweeted: “Poults may not have won the Dubai world championship, but he could be in with a shout for tiddlywinks world championship.”