Golf

Pro reports Collin Morikawa rules gaffe, leads to rarely enforced penalty

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Collin Morikawa and caddie JJ Jakovac on Saturday on the 4th hole at the Albany Golf Course.
Golf Channel
A “pretty complicated” rule. 
A pro texting an official about it, though only because he was curious about the definition — when then revealed an infraction by his playing partner. 
An “intense” exchange. 
And even a small joke.
As Tiger Woods returned and Scottie Scheffler won this weekend at the Hero World Challenge, things also took a convoluted, bizarre and possibly far-reaching turn at Albany Golf Course in the Bahamas. 
All over a 9-foot, 5-inch putt. (That missed.)
The fallout? Ahead of Sunday’s final round at the Hero, Collin Morikawa was hit with a two-shot penalty for a breach of Model Local Rule G-11, which restricts the use of green-reading materials, and he dropped from a tie for fourth and six shots behind the leaders, to ninth and eight strokes back. There’s more. Matt Fitzpatrick said he accidentally reported the infraction of his third-round playing partner — which led to a confrontation.
To help guide this story, we’ll use questions. There are a few, after all. 
To start, at some point during the Hero, Morikawa was on the Albany practice green. That was OK. And at some point during the Hero, the two-time major winner used a level “to obtain on the practice putting green the levels of slope.” That was OK actually. And had he kept those numbers just in his head, that even would have been OK. 
But he and caddie JJ Jakovac wrote what they learned in their yardage book. Then they used the information on the par-4 4th hole during Saturday’s third round, where Morikawa two-putted from 9 feet, 5 inches. That was not OK. He was assessed a two-shot penalty under Model Local Rule G-11, which restricts the use of green-reading materials — like a device that measures levels of slope — and has been in play on the PGA Tour since the start of last year
The news was publicly announced via a 33-word post at 12:14 p.m. ET on the site formerly known as Twitter. About an hour later, Tour rules official Stephen Cox joined Golf Channel’s broadcast and was asked three questions by announcer Steve Sands. 
“There was a little bit of a situation with Collin Morikawa. Please explain to us what exactly took place yesterday on the 4th.”    
Cox had an over-300-word response. The rules team learned of “a question mark” on Saturday night. He called the rule in question “a pretty complicated rule.” He talked with Morikawa and Jakovac on Sunday morning, ahead of Morikawa’s final round, and Morikawa’s bogey five was adjusted to a triple-bogey seven. 
“He confirmed that he had a putting system, which is very common out here on Tour, within his yardage book, as a hand-written note,” Cox said on the broadcast. “But unfortunately — and that in itself is not a breach of the rules. Unfortunately, how he went about formulating that putting system and that chart, he unfortunately used a device to obtain on the practice putting green the levels of slope. And using a device, again, is not necessarily a breach in itself, but when you transfer that as a hand-written note into your yardage book and subsequently use that for greens reading, that’s when the breach occurred. 
“We met with both player and caddie this morning and advised them of the situation. It was extremely inadvertent. They weren’t aware of this nuance behind the rule and fortunately for Collin, it was a single-time breach, and that was why he was assessed a two-stroke penalty.” 
“When you delivered that news to JJ and Collin this morning, what was the reaction from them?”
Cox said it was not surprising. 
“I think it’s very similar to the way we assess any penalty on a player — you can imagine their frustration, particularly surrounding a rule which is very complex, and there’s been an awful lot of dialogue since we introduced the Model Local Rule back in 2022 and the education behind that because we knew the complexities behind the rule,” he said on the broadcast. “One thing we were very clear on was gentlemen, we want the ability to retain the ability to write hand-written notes, but you do need to assure that those notes have been obtained through traditional methods as opposed to using devices.”
“Quickly, did they push back, or did they understand that the rule was broken?”
“They understood the rule was broken,” Cox said on the broadcast. “But I think anytime the rules penalize a player, there’s inevitable pushback and frustrations behind that and that was shared by both player and caddie, which is human nature.”
Morikawa, across two interviews, took full blame. “Me and JJ,” Morikawa said on the NBC broadcast, “we made a mistake.” He said it was the first time they had done it, and they had done it only on the 4th hole. 
There was more from him about his talk with Cox, though.
But first, how did rules officials even learn of the infraction? 
Markings in a yardage book are tiny. Yardage books are also mostly hidden to everyone but player and caddie. An infraction, therefore, is seemingly impossible to enforce. 
So what happened?
As first reported by Golf Channel’s Todd Lewis, Fitzpatrick was the source, and he had shared it all after Saturday’s third round. Notably, on a tee box on Sunday during the final round, Golf Channel mics picked up pieces of a conversation between Fitzpatrick and Scheffler, his playing partner.
“… That’s where it came from originally,” Fitzpatrick was overheard saying. “I was working on some stuff with Phil [putting coach Phil Kenyon], and he was like, you’re just going to have to memorize the numbers.” 
“I was about to say, because J.T. was telling me about it,” Scheffler said, presumably referring to Justin Thomas. “I was like, wait, I keep the numbers in my head, but I only know like three of them.” 
“Exactly, exactly,” Fitzpatrick said. 
He said much of the same after his round. Here was his telling of what happened:
— Fitzpatrick said he heard Morikawa ask a question to Jakovac and that the caddie answered via the yardage book. It got Fitzpatrick curious. He said he had talked to Kenyon earlier in the year about writing down numbers from his AimPoint putting technique, and that he was told he couldn’t do so. 
— So he said he texted Cox about it later that night. He said he forgotten about it until that point, when someone had asked him about putitng.
“I was like, oh, s**t, I have that question,” Fitzpatrick said after his round. “I texted Coxy and he then — that’s where it went.”
— Cox, according to Fitzpatrick, then pressed him for more information.    
“I asked the question,” Fitzpatrick said, “and he was like, well, now you’ve asked the question, I need you to tell me what’s going on.” 
— And he did. “Whether it was Tiger or whoever,” Fitzpatrick said, “it’s just I wanted to know because I would have used it earlier this year.”
Had Fitzpatrick talked to Morikawa about what happened?
No. But he then offered this to reporters.
“JJ, before we went out, explained why he did what he did or whatever,” Fitzpatrick said. “He said he had done his homework and he had gone out there and, you know, rolled the balls as what we were told you were allowed to do. You know, he told me. I was like, listen, that’s not the advice I was given, but he might be — I’m pretty sure he was given different advice. I think the issue was he’s been told one thing by one rules official and then obviously we’ve had another thing by another rules official. That’s also not having a go at the rules officials — it’s just obviously there’s miscommunication somewhere and here we are.”
As of Sunday afternoon, Morikawa said he hadn’t talked to Fitzpatrick about what happened. He also said Fitzpatrick “did what any competitor should do.” 
There was another conversation, though. 
Not well. Notably, NBC announcer Dan Hicks said he saw Morikawa and Cox on the practice green and described the meeting as “an intense exchange.”
Across interviews with NBC and on-site reporters, Morikawa’s concerns were three: 
— First, he said he had been told that he could write level information into his yardage book. 
From a host of folks. 
“Look, got assessed a two-stroke penalty on 4 yesterday for what we had deemed to be an OK thing,” he told reporters. “And the only reason why we deemed that, what we had in our notes was OK was because he had asked other officials, he had asked other caddies, and it sounded as if other people were doing this. And when you ask an official something, you assume it’s right. Well, apparently if they tell you something wrong one day in a different tournament does not carry on, and I understand that. We made the mistake. 
“But look, from our understanding, it was fine to use a level on the practice green and see how putts break and write that down. Obviously it’s not. But it just seems like there’s such a gray line in today’s rules. And not with a lot of rules, but just with things like this, you know. He said he made it clear, but I think if you go ask — JJ was asking every caddie today, and obviously there’s a small field in asking all the caddies, all the players, and it seemed as if we weren’t doing things wrong, right? I think you can ask other players.”
— Morikawa also said Cox was late to their meeting. 
He said it was “kind of going around the bush.”
“JJ got a text from Stephen Cox in the morning,” Morikawa told reporters. “He didn’t let me know because he just didn’t want me to worry about anything. Then we started warming up and about 45 minutes left in my warmup, that’s when he got another text from Stephen to say meet in the locker room. We go there and we’re looking for him and he’s nowhere to be found and that’s just more frustrating on my part because, look, at the end of the day, like just be direct. Like we’re too much back and forth with everything in today’s golf world, right? Just be direct and tell me like am I playing, am I not playing? Just give it to me, right? Kind of going around the bush. 
“Look, I get it, no one wants to hurt anyone’s feelings and it is what it is.”
— Morikawa said there are some trust issues now. 
He said that Cox told Jakovac that there was “gray area” in the rule. 
“It just sucks that from our understanding and from JJ’s questioning of officials, it’s like what do we trust now, right?” Morikawa told reporters. “It’s not like he has the exact conversation that he can pull out on a mic and say this is what they said, but we’re not doing this if we’re jumping on the line of being OK to not, you know? Like I’m not trying to cheat like that. He would never do that; I would never do that. 
“So he did his due diligence and apparently it was just kind of a lot of gray area. And you know what, Stephen said apparently to JJ this morning that it was a gray area in all this. Why are there gray areas? There shouldn’t be gray areas in the rules, right? That’s what rules are for. So if he told JJ this morning — that’s why JJ didn’t bring it up until we were about to go warm up. It’s like well, if he doesn’t understand the rules and he has to go ask other people, then what’s the point of having these rules officials if they don’t know the rules? 
“I don’t know. It’s frustrating to end the year like this.”
So we’ll end things this way. 
What about Jakovac? 
Was Morikawa upset with his longtime caddie?
No. He also had a story. To him, it proved that he committed the penalty just once. 
“I actually fired JJ on the first hole for reading my putts until literally the third round,” Morikawa joked on NBC after his round.  
“So it’s a blessing in disguise, I guess.”

Nick Piastowski is a Senior Editor at Golf.com and Golf Magazine. In his role, he is responsible for editing, writing and developing stories across the golf space. And when he’s not writing about ways to hit the golf ball farther and straighter, the Milwaukee native is probably playing the game, hitting the ball left, right and short, and drinking a cold beer to wash away his score. You can reach out to him about any of these topics — his stories, his game or his beers — at nick.piastowski@golf.com.
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