Hunter Mahan and Jamie Donaldson made rookie mistakes that are a rare occurrence even for most amateur games. And it’s a double error that could cost either or both players tee times over the weekend. Approaching the 18th green (their ninth hole of the day), each hit the other’s ball up towards the green, resulting in a two-stroke penalty for each.
"You certainly don’t see it too often at this level," Thomas Pagel, the USGA’s senior director of rules, said on ESPN as the two golfers made their way back down the fairway to try again. "But if you play a ball other than your ball, it’s a two-stroke penalty in stroke play and you have to go back and correct [it]."
According to rule 15.3, if the players did not correct the error before teeing off on the next hole, the penalty would be disqualification from the tournament.
"The ‘trigger point’ is when they get to the next tee," Pagel explained.
Paul Azinger and Curtis Strange, commenting from the ESPN booth, felt the players’ pain.
"It is a sinking feeling," said Azinger, who recalled his own such mistake of long ago at Firestone.
"Everybody should do it once," chimed in Strange, "because you will never do it again."
The result: Mahan posted a double-bogey six on No. 18, making the turn with an even-par 35 for the day and 4-over for the week, which could mean a missed cut for his efforts. His caddie, John Wood, who also has culpability in the egregious mistake, tried to console him as they came off the 18th green.
"That’ll cost you a championship if you get close," said Azinger. "That’s one of those things mentally that you just don’t recover."
Mahan started the day in a tie for 88th place, but had worked his way inside the top 50 and was 2-under on his first nine. He stood at T43 as he played the 18th hole, well inside the "top 60 and ties" cut line in place at the U.S. Open. The two-stroke penalty and subsequent double bogey puts him in a tie for 70th.
For Donaldson, it this was the end of a two-hole stretch that he played in 5-over. Ouch.
"They’re gonna kick themselves the rest of the day for that," Azinger said of Mahan, who kept shaking his head as he followed his ball to the hole.