These two extraordinary US Open referees pushed the limits of the golf rulebook

Justin Thomas, left, and Rory McIlroy find themselves in the rules discussions in the third round of the US Open.

NBC Sports

The rules of golf, and the thousands of sub-rules and interpretations within them, are huge for a reason: On a 150-acre course anything can happen and do.

Sometimes, though, the golf land laws alone aren’t enough to make a decision.

Sometimes a player’s perspective (which we hope is honest) is also required.

On Saturday’s par-4 fourth hole at The Country Club – this was in the third round of the US Open – Justin Thomas’ engine came to rest a few inches off the drain cap. If you had taken a quick look at the location of his ball, which was also on a slight slope toward the drain, you would have assumed that relief was imminent. Perhaps it was, if not for one thing: Thomas’ design, after discussion with the rules officer, that the casing was, in fact, unlikely to hinder his swing.

Justin Thomas drains the US Open

“That’s bulls – man!” Justin Thomas is frustrated after an attrition ruling at the US Open


Dylan Dither

After his tour, Thomas said he could have “very easily” told the official that the cover might be a problem for him and “got a free shot”. “In the spirit of the game,” Thomas said, he chose not to.

His ensuing volley shot, from 165 yards, wasn’t good. Thomas picked up a lot of grass and threw the ball into a bunker in front of the green, making a bogey 5. If the drain wasn’t in Thomas’ way, it would most likely be in his head, because for Thomas the chunky approach caliber was an amazingly bad result. Unfortunately, as Craig Winter, head of USA agency rules, said on an NBC broadcast, “mental interference does not give one relief.”

Moments after the shot, Thomas notes on the canister, Jim “Bones” Mackay, which Sky Sports microphones selectedexposing Thomas’ deeply conflicting feelings about his self-imposed judgment.

“That’s what bothers me,” he told Mackay. “Because a lot of other people lie about their ability to hit that, but it’s just like, I’m not going to bump into it. I’m just trying to be a good person. That’s and — in bulls — man.” (Warning: The video below is uncensored.)

After signing two over-72s that made him third for the week and seven from behind for captain Will Zalatores, Thomas revealed more about his headspace on the fourth hole.

“I could only hit the ball – I only hit it for 100 yards,” he said. “I mean, yeah, my position and the place where my ball and sitting were so obviously changed badly because of this drain, but I didn’t let a drop of it go. That’s just how things are. You should be able to get to the drain. [during your swing] to get a drop. ”

This is true, but really, the player just needs to convince the official that he or she is may be Hit the drain. Thomas would probably have done it without too much pressure, because if we’ve learned anything from the rules officials at pro golf in recent years (the champ who denied Bryson DeChambeau’s intolerance of fire ant relief), they generally give players the benefit of the doubt. . A 15-time tour winner with a brand name and the son of a lovable PGA club pro looking for respite from that unfortunate lie? Show me an official who has the nerve to refuse this request.

Instead, Thomas bravely chose to play the ball where he found it. We can argue about whether he should have publicly understood the referee – Thomas’ comment undoubtedly stripped some complacency from the episode – but in the end he did the right thing. Thomas felt he didn’t really need to rest so he didn’t take it.

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Nick Piastovsky

Later in the third round, the crossover between the rules and player opinion came to light again, this time with Rory McIlroy. When McIlroy pulled his shot at 18, he found his ball tangled up from coarse and other unpleasant things but also near a runway. “Oh, no,” he said to himself when he realized his ball was out of reach.

But then a bases official informed McIlroy that he could take a break from the Hulk if McIlroy Believes – If he feels comfortable – he can realistically work his ball around all the trouble and get back to a streak with the pin. Another referee’s plea, similar to Thomas’s, to which McIlroy replied, “Okay, I can equalize pretty well, so, yeah, I think I can do that.”

So the official gave McElroy a rest, and opened a clearer, albeit still challenging, path toward the green. “I still had to make a pretty big tie around that tree, but it was a huge break,” McIlroy said. “If that runway wasn’t in there, I’m kind of flip-flopping, and maybe a 5 would have been the score I would have.”

Instead, McIlroy hit a nice shot in the middle of the back of the green and a 2-putged for 4 that kept him three from Zalatoris heading into Sunday.

McIlroy said of the landing.

Thomas didn’t have such good fortune, and judging by his comments after the tour, the referee seemed to be nibbling him off. Rules have a way of doing this, especially when the difficult answers don’t come from the rulebook but from the players themselves.

Alain Bastable

Alain Bastable Editor
As the Executive Editor of, Bastable is responsible for the editorial direction and voice of one of the game’s most respected and popular news and service sites. He wears many hats—editing, writing, thinking, developing, daydreaming for a day breaking 80’s—and feels privileged to work with an insanely talented and hardworking group of writers, editors and producers. Prior to taking over at, he was the Feature Editor at GOLF Magazine. He graduated from the University of Richmond and Columbia College of Journalism, and lives in New Jersey with his wife and four children.

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