NASSAU, Bahamas — Collin Morikawa got docked two strokes on Sunday morning in one of the more bizarre rulings on the PGA Tour in a long time – which is saying something.
If you’re unfamiliar with this week’s installment of “the Rules of Golf can be wacky,” you can read the backstory about why Morikawa was assessed two strokes for violating local model rule G-11, which restricts the use of green-reading material, on the fourth hole of the third round of the Hero World Challenge here. But the part of the story that couldn’t be told until players talked after the round was how the violation was reported in the first place. And how did Morikawa and his caddie, JJ Jakovac, take the news?
In regards to the first question, chief referee Stephen Cox of the PGA Tour did confirm that Matt Fitzpatrick was responsible for bringing the subject to light. One rush to judgment was that the Englishman had ratted out Morikawa but that isn’t the case. Rather, he was simply looking for confirmation of a rule, which went into effect in 2022, when the USGA and R&A banned the green-reading books that took much of the skill out of reading a putt.
On the fourth green on Saturday, Fitzpatrick heard Morikawa ask his caddie about the break and witnessed Jakovac refer to his yardage book for the answer.
“I have wanted to use AimPoint earlier this year,” Fitzpatrick explained on Sunday after finishing T-4. “I spoke to my putting coach, Phil Kenyon, about it. He told me that he was pretty certain I can’t write the numbers down or use the AimPoint numbers. So, you know, I didn’t do it. And then obviously yesterday it happened and I asked Coxy just to clarify what the situation was. I asked the question and he was like, ‘Well, now you’ve asked the question, I need you to tell me what’s going on.’ That was it.
“Listen, it’s nothing personal. Whether it was Tiger or whoever, it’s just I wanted to know because I would have used it earlier this year.”
Fitzpatrick never broached the subject directly with Morikawa and, in fact, he forgot about it after the round. He didn’t text Cox until later that evening.
“It wasn’t until I was back in the house like where I was staying and someone was talking about putting or something like that. I was like, oh, [shoot], like I have that question,” Fitzpatrick recalled.
Morikawa cleared up another mystery in all of this: how could he be so sure that Jakovac only violated the rule that one time on the third hole on Saturday?
“I promise you it only did happen on the fourth hole because he read a putt wrong on the first hole with his feet and I fired him in the first round from reading my putts,” Morikawa explained.
Morikawa expressed no problem with Fitzpatrick bringing the potential violation to light, noting, “He did what any competitor should do.”
Morikawa also sided with his caddie, who he said had asked a different rules official if measuring the slope on the green with a level device was legal – which it is – but a player and/or caddie can’t write those figures down in his yardage book.
“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,” Morikawa said. “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 Morikawa wondered: “Why are there gray areas? There shouldn’t be gray areas in the rules, right? That’s what rules are for.”
Morikawa expressed some frustration at the process of how he was alerted to the possible infraction. Cox initially texted Jakovac in the morning a few hours before Morikawa’s tee time. Jakovac didn’t say anything to Morikawa at first because he didn’t want to concern him if there wasn’t any issue. Cox sent a second text with about 45 minutes left in Morikawa’s warmup calling for a meeting in the locker room.
“We go there and we’re looking for him and he’s nowhere to be found,” Morikawa said.
Cox is nothing if not punctual and was doing his due diligence to make sure he had his ducks in a row but Morikawa was equally frustrated with the process as he was with the ruling.
“Just give it to me, right?” Morikawa said. “If I broke the rules, I broke the rules and that’s on me, I have to take it.”
A two-stroke penalty turned his third-round score from 70 into a 72. Even before he teed off, his tall task at catching leader and eventual champion Scottie Scheffler grew from six back to eight back. It’s a mistake he and Jakovac likely will never make again.