BROOKLINE, Mass. — As Justin Thomas prepared to hit his opening tee shot in the third round of the 122nd U.S. Open at The Country Club on Saturday, an announcer introduced the two-time major champion as Justin Thompson.
It wasn’t the last time Thomas would get a bad call from the USGA.
On the par-4, 385-yard fourth hole, Thomas ripped his tee shot 320 yards down the left side of the fairway. Unfortunately for him, the ball stopped a couple of inches from a drain. He asked a USGA rules official for a ruling on a free drop.
“To me it was around a drain and very clearly, in my stance and my ball was sitting differently than it would be if that drain was not there,” Thomas said after the round. “I called an official to get a ruling on it, and in the spirit of the game, [I told the official] I wasn’t going to hit the drain. I felt like I very easily could have told her that I was going to and gotten a free drop, but I wasn’t.”
Since Thomas said he wasn’t going to hit the drain, the official ruled that he wasn’t getting relief.
In a statement to ESPN, the USGA said: “During the discussion, Justin was asked if the drain was going to interfere with his swing, to which he replied it was not. Because there was no interference from the drain, Justin was not provided relief.”
Under rule 16.1a(1) of the Rules of Golf, a player is afforded relief if “interference from an immovable obstruction exists when the ball touches or is in or on the obstruction, or the obstruction physically interferes with the player’s area of intended stance or area of intended swing.”
“The Rule goes on to state that if the obstruction is close enough to distract the player but does not otherwise interfere, there is no relief under the Rule,” the USGA statement continued.
After not being given relief, Thomas sprayed his second shot into a greenside bunker. After chunking the shot, Thomas made a few colorful comments to his caddie, Jim “Bones” Mackay.
“That’s what pisses me off, because so many other people would lie about being able to hit that, but it’s just like, ‘I’m not going to hit it.’ That’s f—ing bulls—, man,” Thomas said, before tossing his iron at his bag.
Thomas ended up bogeying the hole. He finished 2-over 72 for the second consecutive round and is 3 over after 54 holes. Thomas and his team were still steaming about the ruling on the putting green after his round.
“Yeah, it’s unfortunate because it was a great drive, and I had a pitching wedge in my hands, and I only hit it 100 yards,” Thomas said. “I mean, yeah, it’s very clear that my stance and where my ball was was altered and sitting bad because of that drain, but didn’t get a drop from it. That’s just how it is. You have to be able to hit the drain to get a drop.”
The good news for Thomas: He entered the final round 7 shots back before winning the PGA Championship for a second time at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Oklahoma, last month.
“I would feel better if I was five or six shots better,” Thomas said. “Those guys have a lot of golf left. Selfishly, for my sake, hopefully they can stay within striking distance because this is a great place to post. Hopefully, I can get hot tomorrow and then go post a number and give them a score to look at for a couple of hours.”