AUSTIN, Texas – During Friday’s final day of pool play at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Kevin Na and Dustin Johnson became the center of an interesting Rules of Golf situation.
On the 11th hole, Johnson’s birdie putt from 8 feet rolled less than a foot past the hole and the world No. 1 slapped back his ball without marking it or putting it. Na approached Johnson moments later and informed him he hadn’t conceded the putt, although he planned to.
“His [putt] lipped out and he had 6 inches and obviously it's good, but I hadn't said anything and he whacked it,” Na said. “I froze there and looked at [caddie Kenny Harms] and I wasn't going to say that's a penalty, you're going to lose the hole. I was going to say, you know what, that was good anyway.”
The problem with Na’s comments is that he can’t do that under the Rules of Golf.
“We saw Kevin’s interview and we were a little bit surprised to hear his answer because we never got clarification on exactly what was said,” said Gary Young, a Tour vice president of rules and competitions. “Two players can’t just agree that a putt was conceded afterwards.”
Young called Johnson and asked what happened.
“He said, ‘It was a little bit breezy and I hit the putt and I started walking and I thought I heard Kevin say, That’s good,’” Young said.
Because Johnson believed Na had conceded the putt there was no violation. Had he not had any indication that it had been conceded he would have been given a one-stroke penalty.
“I told both players that this is why the concessions need to be clear,” Young said. “In this situation where Dustin had just scooped it and he hadn’t heard anything and they agreed to do this [halve the hole] they both would have been disqualified from the tournament.”
In 2019 there was a similar scenario when Sergio Garcia backhanded a short putt during his quarterfinal match with Matt Kuchar. The Spaniard missed the putt and lost the hole when Kuchar informed him he hadn’t conceded it.
“That was slightly different. There was absolutely nothing said [by Kuchar], Matt was a considerable distance away and that was a situation where Matt said he was going to give him that putt but he was at his bag and Sergio acted quickly and just hit the putt and missed it,” Young explained. “They wanted to retroactively make the putt conceded but the rules don’t allow that.”