SPRINGFIELD, N.J. – Jordan Spieth stepped onto the podium next to the Baltusrol clubhouse Friday prepared to discuss the 3-under 67 that put him back in the mix at this PGA Championship. Instead, he was peppered with questions about a ruling he received on the seventh hole, for which there was no penalty.
The issue arose Spieth lost his tee shot on 7 way right. His ball settled in a puddle below the level of a gravel cart path. After consulting with rules official Brad Gregory and several attempts to drop, Spieth was allowed to place his ball on the path, taking relief from casual water. (He opted to play the ball off the path instead of dropping into the tall grass to the left, where he would have had little shot underneath a tree.)
Taking his normal stance, Spieth’s left foot would have still been in the puddle, so he altered his foot line and hovered his left toe above the water. The official on hand cleared him after a nine-minute ruling, and Spieth hit a sweeping hook that wound up over the back of the green. He made bogey.
Watching the replay on the telecast, CBS Sports announcer Gary McCord suggested that Spieth might be subject to a two-shot penalty because he didn’t take full relief from the casual water.
Afterward, however, Spieth said he “never thought twice” about a potential infraction.
“I don’t think there’s any problem with it,” he said. “If there happens to be, then that’s not on me. I literally asked every question I could ask and I got every answer I could to be content. He said it was just fine, so it was just fine.”
Spieth said the ruling was “as complicated as I’ve ever really had,” but added that he never would have hit the shot if he hadn’t received the all-clear sign from Gregory.
The PGA of America later sent out an explanation for why Spieth did not receive a penalty, under Decision 20-2c/0.8.
"Once the ball was dropped and in play," the PGA said, "Jordan had the option to select another type of stroke or another type of club to actually play the shot and he chose to play a stroke to the right of a tree in an attempt to try to hook the ball toward the green.
“Jordan was entitled to either play the ball as it lay, even if his stance was still in the casual water, or he could have elected to take relief again from the casual water under this different type of stroke that he then elected to play.”
The scene was reminiscent of a ruling involving Rory McIlroy that occurred at the European Tour event in Abu Dhabi in 2014. Officials determined after the round that McIlroy hadn’t taken full relief from a gallery crosswalk because his foot was still on the white line marking the drop area. He was assessed a two-shot penalty and said later, “There’s a lot of stupid rules and this is one of them.” He went on to win that week.
The difference here is that Spieth was told by a rules official that the drop was OK. In McIlroy’s case, it was the caddie of one of the players in his group that informed him of the potential violation, which was later confirmed via video review.
“He told me it was fine,” Spieth said. “I really don’t know why we’re talking about it, to be honest. It was a casual-water relief drop that took a little extra time. It was no problem.”
And so ended an eventful second round for Spieth, who began his day sitting in a tent near the 10th tee for about 45 minutes as the crew worked to make the course suitable for play. After needing 15 holes to make his first birdie Thursday, he opened with back-to-back birdies and turned in 4-under 32. He went 1 over on the front nine, his lone mistake coming at the seventh.
“I’m striking the ball beautifully,” he said. “The driver went a little astray, but overall I feel like I’m in a good position to make a run. I just need a couple of good rounds.”