AUSTIN, Texas – About an hour before Bryson DeChambeau’s approach shot at the par-4 13th hole raced across the green and settled onto a sprinkler head, Thomas Pieters found himself in the same spot.
Pieters was 3 up in his match against Tom Hoge at the time and immediately requested a ruling for relief, which is standard on the PGA Tour.
“When the golf course was marked, the [hazard] line got a little bit closer. Obviously, there's a lot of wind when you're marking these golf courses,” explained Gary Young, the Tour’s vice president of rules, competition and administration. “The line got a little too close to it. The official who ruled on it was going based on what he was looking at.”
Matches and scoring from the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship
The initial rules official, USGA senior director of rules and amateur status Craig Winter, ruled that based on the hazard line, which was drawn too close to the sprinkler head, and the location of Pieters’ golf ball, which was touching the red line, he was not allowed relief. He frustratingly chipped to 21 feet and conceded the hole, but went on to win the match, 2 and 1.
By the time DeChambeau’s approach ended up on the same sprinkler head, Young and the rules committee had decided to adjust the hazard line on No. 13 so the sprinkler head would be entirely in the “general area” and not the hazard. Although the line hadn’t been moved before DeChambeau had played his approach shot, he was allowed to take a drop without penalty.
“They said you can't get relief. I was like, what are you talking about, it's in the sprinkler head and outside of the hazard,” DeChambeau said. “I had a rules official come up and he clarified it to me, that Thomas didn't get relief, but we changed it because it just wasn't right, and apparently they can do that in match play.”
Young explained that the decision to change the ruling was based on the idea that “two wrongs don't make a right” and that the correction was needed because the sprinkler head “clearly should be outside [the hazard]” and players deserved free relief.
DeChambeau made par to tie the 13th hole in his match against Richard Bland and the match ended in a tie. Bland said an official explained the changed ruling to him and he agreed with the decision.
“They said, ‘Look, we gave him the wrong ruling’ and that’s tough for Thomas,” Bland said. “I know it could have been a pivotal part of the match around that corner, but I think if the shoe is on the other foot and I wasn’t getting a drop I think I’d be throwing the ref in the water.”