Patrick Reed rules controversy blows up around video of ball landing in wrong tree

Golf official with binoculars in Dubai
Golf official with binoculars in Dubai

Patrick Reed was involved in yet another rules controversy after the American declared that, despite TV suggesting otherwise, he was “100 per cent certain" it was his ball lodged up a tree in Dubai.

His insistence permitted him a favourable drop on the 17th hole on Sunday and spared him a long walk back to the tee.

Predictably, social media was quickly in uproar following the incident in the third round of the Dubai Desert Classic, which featured Reed peering through binoculars up into the branches and assuring the referees that he was sure it was his ball because of its distinctive markings.

Video replays, however, appear to show that there was very little chance that the ball identified by Reed could have been his.

The rules of golf dictate that, if Reed were in any doubt about whether or not it was his ball, he would have to take a stroke and distance penalty and go back to play three off the tee. As it was, Reed was allowed to take a one-shot penalty drop adjacent to the tree and escaped with a bogey five.

Reed went on to finish second in the tournament overall, one shot behind Rory McIlroy.

Reed and McIlroy had been embroiled in a bust-up all week at the Emirates Golf Club, after McIlroy refused to acknowledge the LIV Golf rebel, whose lawyers served the world No 1 with a court summons on Christmas Eve. Reed reacted to Rory's snub by flicking a LIV-branded tee peg at his feet.

As one wag put it, Reed’s week went from “Teegate” to “Treegate”.

Video replays suggest Reed was wrong

When asked by Telegraph Sport, Reed was unequivocal about it being his ball. “100 per cent,” he said. “I would have gone back to the tee if I wasn’t 100 per cent… I got lucky that we were able to look through the binoculars and you have to make sure it’s your ball and how I mark my golf balls is I always put an arrow on the end of my line, because the Pro VI the arrow on the end stop before it so you can see the arrow.

“And you could definitely see and identify the line with the arrow on the end, and the rules official, luckily, was there to reconfirm and check it to make sure it was mine as well.”

Subsequent video analysis appears to show that Reed was wrong.

Replays show Reed’s ball disappearing as it reaches the first tree, at a height where it would be unlikely to reach the second or third trees. Once Reed arrives at the trees, however, he uses a pair of binoculars to identify his ball – there are several to choose from – in the third tree along the fairway, despite pictures suggesting the ball did not travel that far.

Later, the Tour released a statement, outlining why the on-course decision had been ratified. “During round three of the Hero Dubai Desert Classic, two on-course referees and several marshals identified that Patrick Reed’s ball had become lodged in a specific tree following his tee shot on 17,” it said.

“The DP World Tour chief referee joined the player in the area and asked him to identify his distinctive ball markings. Using binoculars, the chief referee was satisfied that a ball with those markings was lodged in the tree. The player subsequently took an unplayable penalty drop (Rule 19.2c) at the point directly below the ball on the ground. To clarify, the player was not asked to specify the tree but to identify his distinctive ball markings to confirm it was his ball.”

Reed has apparently been cleared but, believe it, the affair will not die. Reed is no stranger to rules rumpuses. Three years ago, he was penalised two strokes for deliberately improving his lie in a bunker – a charge he still denies. And in 2021 he was at centre of another social media storm when he picked up the ball to check if it was embedded, despite the fact that TV showed it skipping forward.

In both cases, he defended himself against the accusations, railing against the media and social media for singling him out.