Ryan Palmer was in a precarious position on the final hole of the Sony Open. The 43-year-old PGA Tour veteran was one-shot back on the 18th and had sailed his drive right into a fairway bunker. The par-5 18th at Waialae C.C. was the easiest hole of the week; in that moment, Palmer seemingly needed birdie, possibly an eagle, to force a playoff.
Given the option of playing safe for the big check or going for the W and risking hundreds of thousands of dollars, a contingent of Tour players would have laid up. Palmer choose the latter route, going full-send with a fairway wood from 280 yards, in the pouring rain no less, trying to capture a victory. In that vein, Palmer’s daring should be applauded.
Unfortunately for Palmer, his approach went righter than Scott Norwood, bouncing off a scoreboard and into the either:
What transpired next arguably altered the tournament.
Rather than hit a provisional, Palmer went ahead, confident someone would find his ball. It was a curious decision; aside from his rock sailing into a different time zone, the group behind him—including then-leader Brendan Steele and Cam Smith, who was one shot back—had been waiting for 20-something minutes on the tee box. The duo, along with Kevin Kisner, did hit their drives after Palmer hit his approach, yet would wait another 15 minutes to make their second shots.
That’s because Palmer was unable to find his ball, meaning he had to go back to his original spot in the bunker and player his fourth, inadvertently “freezing” Steele and Smith.
When Smith and Steele finally hit their second shots, both had less-than-ideal strikes: Smith was well short of the green, and Steele darn-near left the ballpark:
Steele was unable to get up-and-down, while Smith saved birdie from the bunker, forcing a playoff. Smith would win in sudden death with a par on the first hole.
Before tossing blame at Palmer, it’s worth noting Steele and Smith faced the same pressures and inconvenience. Moreover, as bad as his second shot was, perhaps someone should have told Palmer to hit the provisional. As for the idea that Palmer believed his ball was in the grandstands and he would get a generous relief that is becoming the norm at Tour events (seen with Steele’s third shot on the 18th)… well, we will save that conversation for another time.
Conversely, Palmer was not particularly apologetic about his part in this sequence.
On Sunday night, Palmer tweeted, “And for all those questioning the last hole, I’ll do it again next week so deal with it,” after his 18th hole bogey dropped him to T-4. He also sidestepped a question about why he didn’t hit a provisional, faux congratulating a Twitter user for “The Only Negative Tweet of the day Award”!
However, Palmer must have received similar questions about the provisional throughout the night, because on Monday morning he responded the final-hole adventures of Steele and Smith weren’t his fault, remarking “I didn’t hit their shots!”
To Steele’s credit, he publicly took the blame for his shot on the final hole. “The lie was good,” Steele said. “It was just a 2-iron to win a golf tournament. It’s hard.”
Still, one would think Palmer, who’s been on Tour since 2004, would have been more cognizant how his actions—unintentional as it may be—could have impacted the tournament.