PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — The rules of golf got the best of Rickie Fowler on Friday and helped contribute to him missing the cut at the Players Championship.
Fowler was cruising along, having gotten to 5 under par for his round and safely inside the 36-hole cut line, when he hit his driver at the par-4 sixth (his 15th) into a tree.
The ball never came down.
Even though spectators saw the ball fly into the tree, and nobody reported seeing it drop to the ground, because it could not be absolutely identified as Fowler’s ball, he had to treat it as lost. That meant returning to the tee and hitting a third shot, resulting in a double-bogey.
When he sailed his tee shot into the water on the next hole, another double-bogey resulted, sending Fowler from 3 under par to 1 over in two holes. And that is where he ended up, failing to make a birdie over his final two holes.
“Obviously didn’t make a great swing, but it’s 5 yards right of the fairway and the marshals and the fans were standing right there,” Fowler said. “Saw it was the tree it hit and obviously got stuck up there. Unfortunately, the part of the ball that was showing was just all white and dimples. I couldn’t see any of my markings and so couldn’t identify it, so back to the tee.”
With the help of PGA Tour rules official Mark Russell, Fowler tried to identify the ball with the help of binoculars. He also argued his case with Russell, saying everyone there knew it was his ball.
“I’m on your side,” Russell told Fowler, “but we’ve got to identify that ball as yours. There’s nothing I can do unless we can identify it as yours. It’s a shame.”
The ball was at least 40 feet from the ground. To no avail, spectators attempted to shake the tree to dislodge the ball.
“It’s unfortunate,” Fowler said. “If a ball happens to hit something and go into a hazard, it’s not like you have to go identify the ball inside the hazard or the ball in the water. It’s ‘we saw it go right here.’ I mean it was pretty clear that the ball was there, that was where everyone saw it go, heard it go, but not the case with that one.”