It may be early in the new year, but it’s never too early for every golf fan’s favorite pastime, playing a high-definition, slow-motion game of “Did He Cheat?”
Sergio Garcia found himself involved in plenty of PGA Tour controversy last season, but this year the early rules issue actually revolves around him directly. Playing in Abu Dhabi at the HSBC Championship along with stars like Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy, Garcia was finishing up his front nine, and had marked his ball on the green while his playing partner was tapping in.
As he marked the ball, he reached out with his putter and tapped something down on the green. Now, this is where the confusing rules of golf come into play. If it was a pitch mark, as Garcia contested, it would be covered as legal under Rule 16-1c, which states that “the player may repair an old hole plug or damage to the putting green caused by the impact of a ball, whether or not the player’s ball lies on the putting green.”
Of course, if it were a spike mark, then it would be disallowed under a different section, which essentially says that one may not improve the course conditions, especially as spike marks are “impossible to differentiate” from normal irregularities in the turf. Even if that’s what Garcia did, it would only be a two-stroke penalty, but if he signed an incorrect card, he faced potential disqualification.
European Tour officials reviewed video footage of the incident with Garcia (you can see it here), and decided that he committed no infraction. While this issue is a closed case, it’s worth noting that Simon Dyson came under intense scrutiny by the European Tour after getting caught tapping down a spike mark in October at the BMW Masters. If this happened at an American tournament with a much larger viewing audience, it’s impossible to know just how big this could have gotten. Hopefully, this doesn’t bode poorly for things to come this year in the golf world.