Jason Allen/ISI Photos
All’s well that ended well for Harris English during Saturday’s third round of the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth, but not without a few holes of restless worry about a potential penalty stroke derailing him.
English played in the final twosome with Harry Hall, training by three as he was getting ready to attempt a birdie putt from the first cut of rough just off the green on the second hole at Colonial Country Club, 17 feet from the cup. After addressing the ball, English, a 33-year-old tour veteran, stepped away, explaining to those around him that “My ball keeps rolling that way,” pointing toward the hole. English indicated that the ball was moving before he backed away.
Since English’s ball was in a “general area” and not on the green, if English caused the ball to move, he would have to replace his ball and incur a one-shot penalty. If he failed to replace it and play it from the spot it had move to, he would then get a second one-shot penalty for playing a ball from a wrong place.
English, Hall and English’s caddie conferred as PGA Tour rules official Dave Donnelly arrived to try to suss out the situation.
“I was taking my practice strokes right here, and I’m kind of looking at the ball a little bit, and (inaudible) is pointed that way,” English said.
Donnelly then asked English: “When the ball moved, was the club over there or was it behind the ball?”
“When it first moved, it was right here,” English said, his putter head positioned beside the ball as if to take a practice stroke.
That, of course, becomes the critical issue in this whole matter. If English had not yet to address the ball and it started moving, or it was moving already when he addressed it, English would not be on the hook for a penalty and would simply need to play the ball where it lies.
“What you showed me right there, that could not have caused the ball to trickle like that with you far enough away from it,” Donnelly said. “With that not having caused it to move and you didn’t do anything else to cause it to move, then the ball is just in play where it is.”
So English putted the ball from its new position, leaving the birdie attempt three feet short, then rolled in his par.
Mark Dusbabek, a tour rules official working on the Saturday broadcast, injected that the reason it appeared English was told he could play on with no penalty was that there wasn’t enough evidence to show he had caused the ball to move. “Therefore, if you don’t have that virtual certainty, it’s moved by natural forces and you play it from its new position.”
Adding to the confusion, however, was the fact the broadcast did not have any video that showed English’s ball moving before he addressed it to provide the virtual certainty in that direction either.
When the telecast moved from Golf Channel to CBS, English and Hall playing the sixth hole at this point, Jim Nantz came on the air and said the tour was still reviewing the video and would talk to the players about it again after the round, leaving English’s par-4 score in limbo. That uncertainty might help explain the fact English was at the time one over for the round and four back of Hall.
“I think the best way for him to deal with this is to process this like he is going to get a penalty,” analyst Trevor Immelman said. “If he doesn’t, then it’s a bonus.”
Thankfully for English, he didn’t have to wait until the 18th to get things officially settled. On the ninth hole, an official told English that he had been cleared of any potential penalty and the par 4 would stand.
“It was important for the committee to get to Harris as soon as we could and put his mind at ease,” Dusbabek said. “Based on his testimony, the ball had moved prior to him addressing the ball, putting the club behind the ball. He had been taking some practice swings he said and he saw the ball move forward a little bit. His actions did nothing to cause the ball to move. It was deemed it had moved by natural forces so no penalty.”
Nantz asked Immelman how big a deal it was for English to find out early rather than wait until the 18th hole. “Absolutely huge. I actually look for him to go one little run here now now that his mind is cleared out.”
And indeed English proceeded to birdie the next hole and climb into a share of the lead. By the end of the day he had shot an even-par 70 to sit one shot off the lead shared by Hall and Adam Schenk.