Face-Painting Leads To Costly Rules Blunder In Amateur Event

Rule 4 in the USGA Rules of Golf establishes a limit to the number of clubs a player can carry into competition. That magic number, as most golfers know, is 14, a figure that was agreed upon by the USGA and the RNA in 1936 and implemented two years later, around when the advent of steel shafts led to the common bag configuration of nine irons, four woods and a putter.

Now, it’s important to note that after all these years — and quantum leaps in technology — the number still sits at 14 and no one is quite sure why. It’s just something amateurs and professionals are programmed to know. And it’s reinforced during pro golf telecasts whenever an announcer brings up Phil Mickelson’s fondness for tinkering with his lineup. Or, worse yet, a player reaches into the bag and discovers a 15th club, a gaffe for which there are numerous high-profile examples on the PGA Tour.

Violating rule 4.1b results in a two-shot penalty for every hole played with the extra club in the player’s possession. Unsurprisingly, the lengthy entry for Rule 4 does not include any stipulations for when a player unwittingly borrows a teammate’s club in the aftermath of a patriotic face-painting session at a co-ed international event. But that’s precisely what happened to Texas A&M senior Sam Bennett, the top-ranked player in the PGA Tour U. standings and a member of the victorious U.S. team at the Spirit International Amateur Championship this past weekend.

Held at Whispering Pines Golf Club in Trinity, Texas, the 10th edition of the biennial global showcase for top amateurs awards an overall winner, individual medalists and men’s and women’s team titles. And had it not been for Bennett’s infraction, the Americans might have swept their way to gold across the board. 

It seems that while Rachel Heck applied a stars-and-stripes motif to Bennett’s face, she caused the mix-up by resting her 58-degree Ping sand wedge on his bag. Bennett found it inside his bag after parring the opening hole of the final round of competition, at which point he briefly consulted with teammate James Piot and proceeded to report the error to a rules official. Assessed a two-stroke penalty, Bennett was unfazed. The tenacious Aggie carded seven birdies to record a 3-under 69 and capture gold in the individual men’s competition. 

“I knew the Golfing gods would come back and help me,” Bennett told Golfweek. “I told myself, ‘Let’s just get back to even (for the round) by five.’ I made birdies at Nos. 2 and 5 and then it was just game on.”

Bennett should certainly be commended for buckling down, but the American men were separately dealt a cruel blow by those same Golfing gods. The team of Bennett and Piot lost out on gold to Team Sweden by a single stroke, proving once again that it’s never a bad idea to count your sticks before you get to the first tee.