Cam Smith was hit with a two-shot penalty 24 hours after a third-round infringement at the FedEx St Jude Championship. So what happened? And why the delay? George Cooper is on hand

Just when we thought Cameron Smith’s extraordinary week couldn’t get any more hectic, the World No 2 was penalised two shots by the PGA Tour during his final round of the FedEx St Jude Championship.

After reportedly signing with LIV Golf before dropping hint after hint that the rumours are set to become true, there was more drama after Smith was hit with a two-stroke penalty ahead of the fourth round at TPC Southwind.

In a release by PGA Tour Communications, Smith had breached Rule 14.7 – playing a ball from the wrong place – on the 4th hole while operating under Rule 17.1 – playing a ball in the penalty area.

The statement was then followed by a video explaining the incident…

As you can see, Smith’s ball was positioned on the red penalty line after he had taken relief. So why the penalty?

Per NCG’s rules expert, Steve Carroll, when a player takes penalty area relief – in Smith’s case lateral relief – there’s a limit on the location of the relief area where a player must drop a ball. It can’t be in the same penalty area.

When Smith drops, the ball finishes on the red line and so it’s still in the same penalty area. When he then makes a stroke from there, he is deemed to have played a ball from a wrong place. The penalty for that is two strokes in stroke play.

So while the ruling was correct, the PGA Tour were then criticised for not issuing the penalty until 24 hours later, dropping Smith from two shots off the lead going into the final round to four shots.

Chief referee, Gary Young, was on hand to explain: “We had seen it yesterday on the live broadcast. We had an official that was looking at it, but knowing the awkwardness of camera angles and that he was dropping in a really tight area there at the 4th, the geometry of the whole situation, he’s got basically a sliver he’s dropping the ball in.

“We felt very comfortable at that time that he was familiar with the rule … and we decided it wasn’t worth following up on. [But] after seeing the rebroadcast and seeing it again, we felt that it was pretty close to the line and worth a second look. We did take a second look at it and sure enough, we felt it was really close to the line, if not touching and possibly on the line. So it was worth asking the player.

“When I asked him the question, unfortunately, he said to me, ‘No, the ball was definitely touching the line.’ So at that point there’s no turning back.

“That was a moment where I know that the player has knowledge that the ball was touching the line, he just simply didn’t understand the rule that it requires the entire ball to be outside of the penalty area and in his relief area. So that was the tough part.”

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