Jon Rahm said it himself. His first European Tour triumph – an impressive six-shot success in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open – will go down in the record books with an unfortunate mark beside it as a result of the ball-marking incident that the game’s new swashbuckling Spaniard got away with.
What the 22-year-old did on the sixth green in the final round at Portstewart on Sunday may not have been intentional – he replaced his marker in a slightly different position – but it was certainly careless and there can be no excuses for that at the top level in golf.
Rahm was effectively cleared of any wrongdoing through the rule changes – specifially the one that allowed for “reasonable judgment” – introduced by the R&A and the USGA on the back of the Lexi Thompson affair in the ANA Inspiration in California earlier in the year.
The American was hit with a four-shot penalty as she led the opening women’s major of the season after a television viewer reported an infringement in the third round and eventually lost in a play-off.
The severity of that penalty may have seemed harsh, but there was no getting away from the fact that Thompson broke the rules and so did Rahm, which means he should also have been penalised, a shot in this instance.
There was no way that he misplaced his ball by two to three inches, as has been claimed by the controversial analyst Brandel Chamblee, but it definitely didn’t go back in the same spot and that, I’m afraid, has to be a punishable offence.
Particularly when it comes to incidents on the greens, golf can’t afford to get itself in a position where players are saying there was intent if found to have replaced a ball incorrectly.
As with Thompson, the blame for this incident lies with Rahm, no-one else, and it is the responsibility of him and others to ensure this sort of thing doesn’t keep happening.
If it does, one thing for sure is that the European Tour has to use the Rahm case as its template because inconsistency will be a recipe for disaster and bring unwanted grief on the game.