Rules Guru explains: Stickers caused Rory Sabbatini’s club to become non-conforming

·2 min read

Rory Sabbatini was disqualified from the RSM Classic this week, due to a reflective sticker on his club. Sabbatini had started the tournament with a 68 on Thursday, but was sent packing from St. Simons Island, Georgia, after a discussion with PGA Tour official John Mutch.

Earlier this week, our Steve DiMeglio outlined the issue in a story.

Under Rule 4.1 of the Rules of Golf, Sabbatini was DQ’d for having a non-conforming external attachment on one of his fairway woods. Mutch, senior tournament director equipment standards, said Sabbatini had non-conforming stickers on the face of the club.

Some players use reflective dots (stickers) and a launch monitor to track clubhead speed and distance. Sabbatini likely just forgot he had them on the fairway wood.

And while that assessment is mostly correct, we called on our Rules Guru, Ron Gaines, to give us a little more clarity.

Gaines, Golfweek’s Director of Rules and Competition and the President Emeritus of the Golf Association of Michigan, explained that while a sticker was the issue, it wasn’t technically the violation.

“The reflective sticker causes the club to become non-conforming,” Gaines explained.

To further illustrate the point, here is a statement from Carter Rich, Senior Director of Equipment Rules and Conformance at the USGA. This wasn’t issued specifically on the Sabbatini case, but explains the violation.

“Under the Equipment Rules, such attachments to the face are considered to be external attachments that are not permitted (see Part 2, Section 1a of the Equipment Rules). As a result, they render the club non-conforming when playing a round under the Rules of Golf (see Rule 4.1a of the Rules of Golf). In essence, while certain attachments to the head are permissible provided they meet the criteria provided in the interpretation of Part 2, Section 1a, attachments to the face are not permitted.”

What was the sticker for? For that, we return to DiMeglio’s story:

Some players use reflective dots (stickers) and a launch monitor to track clubhead speed and distance. Sabbatini likely just forgot he had them on the fairway wood.

OK, but how do pros know this is the case?

“In the past when new players came onto the Tour, that was discussed in orientation,” Gaines said via text. “Especially on the LPGA.”

For Sabbatini, the gaffe was a costly one. While he does have a T-3 finish at the Shriners Children’s Open, the South African had missed the cut in the other two Tour events he played in this season.