Russell Henley was at the scoring tent after shooting a 2-under 69 during Saturday’s second round of the Mayakoba Golf Classic when his caddie tossed him two balls to sign for the standard bearer and walking scorer with his group. That’s when Henley first realized the innocent gaffe he had made.
“When I get done with a ball, my caddie will mark through it with a line so I don’t re-use them,” Henley said in a phone interview on Sunday. “He gave me two balls to sign and the Pro V1x part of it was facing up at me and I just looked at it and there’s a little dash beside the Pro V1x. I was like, ‘Hmm, that’s weird, is that what all my balls look like?’ I was caught off guard.”
The PGA Tour uses a one-ball rule as a condition of competition, which means players can only use one specific brand and model of ball during a round. The penalty for using a different model is two strokes per hole that the ball is used, maximum of eight strokes.
Henley, who said he uses the 2017 model of the Pro V1x ball, went to his bag and compared it to the other nine balls in there and noticed that one was not like the others. The rest didn’t have the dash. He’d never even hit the offending ball, which he said is a Titleist prototype. When asked how it got in his bag, Henley guessed that he may have picked the ball up by accident while putting to the same hole on the practice putting green as another Titleist ambassador.
“I called PGA Tour rules official Brad Fabel over because something was wrong and I wanted to voice it,” he said. “I told them the scenario that I probably played it, but I don’t know. It looked scuffed up and it had a line through it, but I couldn’t tell you what number ball I used yesterday on No. 4,” Henley said. “I change balls every four or five holes, whenever I hit a wedge and there’s a scuff on it or something. I think I changed around No. 4, 9 or 10 and 14 or 15.”
Fabel brought in Slugger White, the PGA Tour’s vice president of rules and competitions, who phoned the USGA for clarification. It took the better part of an hour before Henley received the verdict.
“They told me that based on what we know and the high probability I used it, we’re going to take the average of the number of holes you typically used it, which is four,” Henley said.
He was assessed eight penalty strokes – two per hole for Nos. 9-12 – turning what had been a 69 into signing for a 6-over 77.
“Well, that sends me home,” Henley said at the time. Indeed, it did. He caught a 6:15 p.m. flight and arrived home after midnight.
“Do I think eight shots is extreme in this situation? Absolutely,” said Henley, who said he was still processing the unusual circumstances. “I think there should be a max of four. I hope eventually we can have some conversations and change the rule. I came from such an innocent place, you could call it a careless place, and given there was no intent I think it’s a pretty harsh rule. It can be debated both ways and I’m aware of that. It’s unfortunate when you’re playing well and in contention, like I was, to you’re missing the cut. It’s tough to swallow.”
But Henley said it won’t crush him because he’s learned not to let his golf score be his identity. His game has been trending in the right direction thanks to a putting tip from Brandt Snedeker after they played together at the Sanderson Farms Championship.
“I felt like I was gaining momentum with my game,” Henley said. “I felt really confident about my chances; I don’t know about winning but I proved to myself that I can go low on Sunday at the John Deere last year. I had two rounds to get it done and I felt good about my game.”