The French Open was always going to be a less-heralded golf event this week, considering the Presidents Cup is taking place in North Carolina. But when a golf broadcaster, who has seen tens of thousands of shots, pronounces they’ve never seen that beforewell, you’ve certainly grabbed our attention.
Turn your gaze away from the team match play golf for just a moment to learn a little Rules action, courtesy of Thomas Pieters and the DP World Tour. Pieters has been ascendant this summer, moving up to No. 34 in the world ranking behind a string of seven top-30 finishes since the Masters. He’s in great position to keep it going this weekend in France, thanks in part to a favorable ruling during Friday’s second round.
Pieters was playing the third hole of his second round when he lined up a long birdie putt across the green. Sky Sports labeled the distance at around 40 feet, longer than the Belgian had probably wished for on the tee box, it being a par-5. Nothing abnormal yet.
But once Pieters started to take his putter away, there was a cough. At least an alleged cough. You can’t hear it on the broadcast, but for the moment we’ll allow it to exist. Pieters took his putter back, reached the top of his stroke, and then started down towards the ball. Right before he made contact, he wanted to stop.
We’ve seen something similar to this happen before, most famously with Tiger Woods who stopped his powerful driver swing after hearing the click of a camera shutter. But a putting stroke feels different.
Pieters’ stroke did not stop in time to keep the putter head from colliding with the ball, but the contact tells a pretty obvious story. He was not committed to finishing that stroke, to hitting that ball. He looked up immediately, leaving his group in a state of confusion. “Never ever seen that before,” the broadcaster said. “Yeah he tried to stop it, didn’t he,” another commentator replied, “but the scorers, the marshals, the gallery — they look as mystified as we do.”
Add us to that list of mystified folks who haven’t seen anything like it before. At least not in a professional event on television. Thankfully, Sky Sports was rolling long enough through Pieters’ ruling for us to earn an explanation.
“I was over the ball, and went back, and the kid coughed,” Pieters explained. “I went to stop but I didn’t and I hit the ball.” Basically, he was in the middle of stopping when his putter head made contact with the ball, which he did not intend to do. And as an astute man of the Rules, Pieters knew that unless there was direct intention to hit the ball, he should be able to replay from the initial spot without penalty.
The only issue was the first Rules official was not convinced and called in a second opinion.
“You had no intention of hitting the ball,” Pieters was asked. “No,” he replied, and when he informed the official that this happened while he was on the putting green, the official concluded, “No penalty, and you replace your ball.”
It is under the loose interpretation of the word “accidentally” where Pieters is allowed to get this ruling. According to Rule 13.1d, “there is no penalty for accidentally causing a ball to move.” And Pieters is clear that he did not intend to make the ball go forward once he decided that the coughing patron was a distraction. Therefore, the rest of his stroke was an accident, even if just a moment earlier it was not an accident at all when he drew the club away from the ball. You are forgiven if you are confused, but we can all trust in the result of the accidental putt. It went all of four feet when it was supposed to go about 40. That tells us everything we needed to know.