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‘He’s moving stuff!’ Contentious rules situation marks Hong Kong Open finish

Ben Campbell birdied each of his final two holes to edge Cameron Smith by a shot and win the Asian Tour’s Hong Kong Open on Sunday.

Campbell’s victory, his first on the circuit, capped a dramatic finish that included a contentious rules situation involving Campbell, Smith and 24-year-old Thai golfer Phachara Khongwatmai.

Khongwatmai, searching for his second career Asian Tour win and trying to track down Andy Ogletree in the Order of Merit race, was leading Smith by a shot at 19 under when he yanked his tee shot into some thick brush at Hong Kong Golf Club’s par-4 16th hole.

“It’s back to the tee, I feel,” said the television announcer.

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Only Khongwatmai would opt to play his ball from the junk.

It took a minute or so for Khongwatmai to locate his Callaway ball. Upon finding it, and with a rules official watching, Khongwatmai and his caddie worked to remove a large, dead tree branch from his intended area of play and later a smaller branch closer to the ball. This took about 15 minutes, as Campbell repeatedly argued that Khongwatmai and his caddie were breaking and moving other foliage while extracting the dead stuff.

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“He’s moving stuff all around it!” Campbell yelled, motioning toward a big clump of green vines in front of Khongwatmai’s ball. “How is this green? This is obviously living.”

Campbell eventually says, “I think we’re going to need to get another official.”

At that point, Khongwatmai claps back at Campbell and Smith: “You guys happy? If you’re not happy I’m not going to do it.”

As Khongwatmai and his caddie continued to trudge around in the brush, there were several sounds of what appeared to be branches and such snapping and crunching, causing Campbell to again yell, “He’s just broken those branches there!”

A second official then arrived, around the 13-minute mark, to help with the situation.

According to Rule 8.1a of the Rules of Golf, a player must not take any of these actions if they improve the conditions affecting your stroke:

  • Move, bend or break any growing or attached natural object, or immovable obstruction, integral object or boundary object, or tee-marker for the teeing area when playing a ball from that teeing area.
  • Move a loose impediment or movable obstruction into position (such as to build a stance).
  • Alter the surface of the ground.
  • Remove or press down sand or loose soil.
  • Remove dew, frost or water.

Rule 8.1c does add: “There are limited instances when you may avoid the penalty by restoring the original conditions before making a stroke. The determination as to whether the improvement has been eliminated will be made by the committee.”

Ultimately, despite Campbell’s pleas, the officials did not find Khongwatmai in breach of the rules.

Finally, after over 16 minutes, Khongwatmai grabbed a club and took a swing. His ball advanced only a few feet, remaining in the brush.

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The third shot didn’t take nearly as long, as Khongwatmai eventually, after about 3 minutes, dropped to his knees and punched his ball out into the left rough, signaling an end to a 20-minute ordeal in the brush.

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“I was in a very difficult situation at that moment that I couldn’t do anything,” Khongwatmai said afterward. “Also, there were broken trees which was an obstacle so I couldn’t step backwards to drop the ball. I had to keep trying to hit it.”

Khongwatmai went on to make double bogey and would end up tied for third at 17 under, two shots back of Campbell.