BROOKLINE, Mass. — Saturday at the US Open will always be tough.
Justin Thomas didn’t like that his fourth hole got even more difficult.
Thomas found the center of the fairway on the long, par-4 fourth. But when he got to his ball, he discovered he had been unlucky: his ball had settled just to the right of a drain.
Thomas called a rules official to discuss the possibility of getting free relief. But because the drain wasn’t considered to interfere with his stance or his swing, he was forced to play on, awkward lies and all. He threw a pitching wedge from 165 yards (the shot was downwind) but caught it hard.
“That was fat,” announcer Peter Jacobsen said on the broadcast. “That has to go.”
Thomas’s ball did not come out. Instead, he fell into a bunker about 50 yards from the green, leaving a fiendish third. Thomas was outraged.
“That’s what pisses me off,” he told caddy Bones Mackay immediately after he landed. “Because a lot of other people would lie about being able to hit that, but it’s like, I’m not going to hit him. That’s bulls—, man.”
NBC coders got to the microphones in time to black out the rest of Thomas’s monologue, but you get the idea.
It wasn’t clear if Thomas was frustrated that his ball had ended up there, frustrated that he hadn’t gotten a decision, that others might have used the rules to his advantage to get one, or maybe he was just missing. let off steam after a disappointing shot. Maybe it was all of the above. But it was a major turning point in the round for Thomas.
The USGA’s Craig Winter joined the NBC broadcast to explain what the rules officer had told Thomas.
“He had a conversation with Justin about whether or not he was going to make it, and from what we heard, it sounded like he was saying ‘probably not,'” Winter said. “And, ultimately, if he doesn’t have physical interference from the physical part of that drain, he’s not entitled to relief. He may have been in his head a little bit, but mental interference grants no relief to anyone.”
He explained that ultimately it is a referee’s judgment after hearing the player’s opinion.
“You could tell he was extremely upset,” Jacobsen said.
Justin Leonard said he didn’t think it was the drain itself, but the bad luck of the slopes around the drain.
“It just creates a really awkward stance and swing. Not that the drain got in the way of him, but it created a very difficult condition for him,” she said. “Knowing him, that will turn him on. He will probably go to 5 and eagle”.
It didn’t work that way. On No. 4, Thomas bunkered his shot to the front edge of the green and two bogey putts. On No. 5, he made a clever approach inside four feet, but missed that putt. He also made three puts on No. 6, dropping to three over par for the tournament, suddenly eight shots off the lead. The US Open is even more difficult from there.