McIlroy's PGA Championship Wrist Injury

McIlroy Wrist US PGAAt the recent PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club, reigning U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy injured his right wrist after striking a tree root when making a stroke.

The incident occurred at the 3rd hole in the opening round. McIlroy’s tee shot finished off the fairway on the left hand side, some 182 yards from the green and his ball was a few of inches from a tree root. McIlroy played his 7 iron and struck the tree root on his follow-through to his considerable discomfort. He immediately applied ice to his right wrist which he held on his wrist between shots. He had also bent the shaft of his 7 iron and so he replaced it with a different club.

At the 5th, PGA Tour therapist Jeff Hendra came out on the course to examine the wrist, causing a brief delay for McIlroy's group. And then at the 9th hole, still in some pain, McIlroy’s own physiotherapist taped up the injury, again causing a short delay. On completion of his level-par 70 round, McIlroy immediately set off for hospital where he received an MRI scan. He was given the all clear and he was able to complete the three remaining rounds of the Championship.

"To be honest, considering I finished with one hand, I hit some good shots," McIlroy said. "It was always there in my mind. So to shoot even par, it was a good effort."

The incident raised a few interesting Rules questions.

McIlroy Wrist US PGAWould it have be appropriate to grant relief without penalty in a situation where a player’s swing is impeded by tree roots?

Bad lies are part and parcel of the game of golf and if a player does not like his lie he may deem his ball unplayable and proceed under Rule 28. It is entirely a matter for each player to decide whether his ball is unplayable or not, and whether he wishes to take on a risky shot (with the potential for injury) or not.

Trees need roots to survive and Decision 33-8/8 contemplates roots at the base of a tree – it would not be appropriate to give free relief where a player has interference by tree roots around the base of a tree. However, where the tree roots are some distance from the trees themselves, i.e. the tree is in one position and the roots have come to the surface somewhere else, and they interfere with the proper playing of the game, then a Committee may declare them as ground under repair by Local Rule. It is recommended that such a Local Rule only applies to closely-mown areas and the semi-rough, and it would be appropriate to deny relief for interference to stance (as it is the lie of the ball and area of intended swing that are the issue and cause for concern). Such a Local Rule should only be used when absolutely necessary.

Was McIlroy entitled to stop playing and receive medical treatment?

Players must play without undue delay (Rule 6-7) and a player may only discontinue play in the following very specific circumstances (Rule 6-8):

(i) the Committee has suspended play;

(ii) he believes there is danger from lightning;

(iii) he is seeking a decision from the Committee on a doubtful or disputed point; or

(iv) there is some other good reason such as sudden illness.

As Rule 6-8(iv) permits a player to discontinue play because of sudden illness, it would seem reasonable to allow a player 10 or 15 minutes to recover from an illness or injury (Decision 6-8a/3). Therefore, McIlroy stopping for a short period of time, receiving his treatment and subsequently rejoining his fellow-competitors was entirely appropriate. However, given that players must play without undue delay, if a player is going to take considerably longer than 15 minutes to recover he would need to withdraw as it is not possible to delay indefinitely.

McIlroy Wrist US PGAWas McIlroy entitled to replace his club?

McIlroy’s club was damaged in the “normal course of play”. Decision 4-3/1 offers some clarification as to what is meant by this term and, in addition to making a stroke, it covers all reasonable acts but specifically excludes cases of abuse. Therefore, removing or replacing a club in the bag is in the normal course of play but not if the club is slammed into the bag. Likewise, using a club to retrieve a ball is in the normal course of play but throwing a club in retrieving a ball (or in anger) is not.

If a club is damaged in the normal course of play the player may (Rule 4-3a):

(i) use the club in its damaged state for the remainder of the stipulated round; or

(ii) without unduly delaying play, repair it or have it repaired; or

(iii) as an additional option available only if the club is unfit for play, replace the damaged club with any club. The replacement of a club must not unduly delay play and must not be made by borrowing any club selected for play by any other person playing on the course.

The Note to Rule 4-3 goes on to say that “A club is unfit for play if it is substantially damaged, e.g. the shaft is dented, significantly bent or breaks into pieces; the clubhead becomes loose, detached or significantly deformed; or the grip becomes loose. A club is not unfit for play solely because the club’s lie or loft has been altered, or the clubhead is scratched.”

In McIlroy’s case, the shaft was bent, it was clearly unfit for play and he was entitled to replace the club with any club. Even though the club was a 7 iron, he was not required to replace it with another 7 iron, and he ended up replacing it with a much lower lofted iron.