PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – There was a notice posted in the player locker room at TPC Sawgrass: “Every shot will be captured and transmitted live this week through enhanced coverage on PGA Tour Live/ESPN+, Golf Channel and NBC.”
Late Monday, as officials raced to complete the weather-delayed Players Championship, that enhanced exposure provided a rare moment of awkward drama.
Daniel Berger was 7 under and within four shots of the lead when his second shot at the par-5 16th hole sailed hopelessly right and into a water hazard. What transpired afterward was a contentious exchange that unfolded on live television.
Viktor Hovland, who was paired with Berger, immediately pushed back on Berger’s attempted drop just short of the green. “I don’t think it crossed up there,” Hovland said. “I’m sure they’ve got it on camera. We can take a look.”
“You can call a rules official and a camera,” Berger countered.
Joel Dahmen, the third member of the group, agreed with Hovland and a surprisingly heated debate ensued.
“I’m not going to take a drop that I don’t feel 100% correct about. I’m not saying it’s all the way up there [by the green], but it’s not back there [motioning toward the spot Dahmen and Hovland were contending his golf ball crossed into the hazard],” Berger argued.
PGA Tour rules official Gary Young was called in, but he deferred to the group: “You guys had the best angle on it. You’ll have to decide it among yourselves like you normally would. ... I want you to go with where you feel it crossed, and if you guys are OK with it."
Hovland then quickly interjected: “To be honest with you, I’m not really OK with it being up there. That’s not really what I saw.”
After more debate, Berger finally relented and dropped closer to where Hovland and Dahman said his golf ball crossed into the hazard, but he didn’t like it.
“You know what," Berger said, "I’m going to drop here for the sake of you guys, but you guys are wrong. ... It's a wrong drop."
Berger bogeyed the hole and finished with a 2-under 70 for a 6-under total.
“I felt strongly my ball crossed here; they felt strongly it didn’t; in the end, it’s a decision that you have to make between your playing partners,” Berger said afterward. “I’m not upset about where I dropped; I think it was 100% the correct place to drop, but I thought it would have been a little further up. In the end, it was the right decision.”
Hovland said he’s had similar encounters with fellow players before about the correct spot to take a drop, and he felt like he and Berger reached a compromise. But he added, "We've got to protect the field and protect all the other guys."
“We try to keep it professional. It's not like we're trying to dog on Daniel and trying to screw him over. It's just, that's what we believe, and he obviously felt strongly the other way,” Hovland said. “I'm not accusing him of anything. The golf ball is in the air for a couple seconds, so it's tough to exactly pinpoint where it crossed."