Coincidence? Karma? Just bad luck? However, you want to characterize what happened to Cameron Smith, who has been the center of a lot of attention this week at the FedEx St. Jude Championship, it doesn’t change the fact that he’ll start the final round on Sunday four shots off the lead rather than two after incurring a two-shot penalty for an unusual rules incident that spilled over from his third round.
Smith was playing the par-3 fourth hole on Saturday at TPC Southwind in Memphis and hooked a tee shot that bounced into the water left of the green. Smith took a drop two club-lengths from where the ball crossed the red line marking the penalty area and proceeded to play his third shot. He’s got up and down for bogey and posted a three-under 67.
As the incident was playing out, PGA Tour rules officials watching the broadcast noticed that when Smith was playing his third shot—the one after his drop—the ball appeared to still be close to touching the red penalty area line. To have taken the drop correctly, no portion of the ball should be touching the red line for the penalty area. According to chief referee Gary Young, the committee members talked among themselves and decided they “felt comfortable enough” that Smith knew the rule and deferred to him and how he played the shot.
Young said, however, that more discussion among the committee took place on Sunday morning after a member saw a replay of the telecast Saturday night. They asked Smith to meet with them in the rules office and talked about what happened, according to Young. At that time, Young said that Smith acknowledged the ball was touching the red line, but that he didn’t realize that that was an issue.
“He wasn’t aware that no portion of the ball could be touching the penalty-area line,” Young said during a discussion of the incident on Golf Channel’s broadcast Sunday. “He thought if a portion of the ball was in the general area of the course, he was safe to play.”
However, under Rule 17.1 complete relief from the penalty area must be taken. As such, Smith was considered to have played his ball from the wrong place, a breach of Rule 14.7, and was given a two-shot penalty. Since Smith was unaware of the mistake, his was not penalized for having signed an incorrect scorecard but instead starts the final round four shots off the lead of J.J. Spaun.
Young said that Smith accepted the decision without pushback. “Cam is a complete gentleman,” Young said. “He took it that way. He was completely calm through the whole process. And once he found out it was a two-stroke panlty he said to me ‘the rules are the rules.’ In typical Cam fashion, he just accepted it.”
Indeed, Smith seemed unflustered, teeing off in the third-to-last twosome and making a birdie on the first hole.