Daniel Berger’s chances of winning the Players Championship effectively ended with a splash at the 16th hole of the final round, but that’s when things got interesting.
Berger’s second shot at the par-5 from 234 yards landed in the lake right of the flag, but where the ball crossed into the penalty area became a topic of great conversation.
“As soon as Daniel hit it in the air, he said, ‘Oh, water ball,’ and then I was watching the whole flight, and it was just short right of the green in the water on 16,” Viktor Hovland, who was playing in the group, said after the round.
When Berger went to drop his ball after a penalty stroke, Joel Dahmen, the third player in the group, and Hovland objected. ESPN+ Featured Group coverage captured the back-and-forth exchange between the parties.
Berger was the under the impression that his shot faded into the water and crossed much closer to the hole. Dahmen saw it differently, and told Berger he should be dropping at least 60 yards farther back. Hovland sided with Dahmen.
“I don’t think it crossed up there,” Hovland said as Dahmen stood with his hands on his hips. “I’m sure they got it on camera.”
“A hundred percent,” Berger replied. “Call a rules official and a camera.”
“I’ve got it back here as well,” Dahmen said, pointing to a similar area as Hovland and making clear it was two against one.
“I’m a little skeptical,” Hovland told Berger of the spot where he wanted to drop closer to the green. Hovland suggested that Berger drop just short of the fairway near a grass bunker at around 125 yards.
“I don’t think it crossed up there,” Dahmen chimed in.
Out came chief referee Gary Young to try to sort the matter.
“I’m not going to take a drop that I don’t feel 100 percent about it. I’m not saying it’s all the way up there but it’s not back there,” Berger said.
“I just didn’t think it sliced that much,” Dahmen said and Hovland concurred.
“I’ve never taken a bad drop in my life and I’m not about to take one now,” Berger said.
Berger asked Hovland where he believed the ball had crossed the red line.
“I don’t have it there,” Berger said. “It’s not even a question to me.”
Young was of little help in settling the matter, placing the responsibility on the players to reach consensus and trying to broker a compromise. “You guys had the best angle on it, so you’ll have to decide that amongst yourself like you normally would,” he said.
It is every player’s duty to protect the rest of the field in such matters and Hovland and Dahmen had every right to speak up in this circumstance.
“I’m not OK with it being up there,” Hovland said, reiterating his position that he opposed where Berger intended to drop. “That’s not what I saw.”
“It’s not even a question in my mind that it crossed back there. Zero percent chance it crossed there,” Berger said.
When Berger stated his case for how his ball cut hard right and entered closer to the green, Hovland said, “That’s not really what I saw.”
He added, “If you were dropping all the way up there it would have had to cut 20 yards.”
“It had 20 yard of cut on it, just so you know,” Berger said.
“Anything here a good compromise?” Young asked.
“It’s wrong. I’m telling you it’s wrong,” Berger whined.
“I’m not going to make you,” said Young, explaining it is ultimately the player’s decision. “I want you to go where you feel you crossed.”
But sensing a stalemate, Berger concluded, “I’m going to drop here for the sake of you guys, but it’s wrong.”
Berger dropped 97 yards from the hole, wedged to 12 feet and missed the putt. He made bogey and shot 2-under 70.
“It ended up being somewhat of a compromise,” Hovland said. “He dropped a little bit further up than Joel and I kind of thought, but we ended up making a compromise, and that’s where he hit it from.”
Former Tour pro John Maginnes, the announcer for ESPN+ with the group, chimed in and said, “I can to tell you when we were playing for $2 million purses you could drop wherever you wanted. Twenty million dollar purse? They are going to push you back.”
Dahmen, who was involved in a similar situation with Tour pro Sung Kang during the final round of the 2018 Quicken Loans National, was adamant that Berger’s drop should be farther back but let Hovland do most of the talking.
Both Berger and Dahmen declined to speak to the media after the round, but Hovland answered a few questions on the subject.
“It’s not a fun conversation, but when you strongly believe in something, you kind of have to stand your ground,” Hovland said. “It’s not like we’re trying to dog on Daniel and trying to screw him over. It’s just, that’s what we believe, and he obviously felt strongly the other way. It’s just what it is. I’m not accusing him of anything. The golf ball is in the air for a couple seconds, so it’s tough to exactly pinpoint where it crossed and not. But Joel and I saw it in one way and he saw it differently.”
Joel Dahmen, the PGA Tour’s defender of all that is right and true. The Ture’s Batman if you will. He swooped in to aid Hovland like Christian Bale in the Dark Knight’s second scene (The one in the parking garage with the fake batmen and the Russian drug dealers). This is as close to a hockey fight as you’re gonna get in golf. I am a Daniel Berger fan and honestly that shot had a lot of cut on it, but when you play with Joel you better watch ya neck. Hovland appeared to depart from his usual smiley demeanor to make sure Boog didn’t drop from 40 yards. On tv it looked like they wanted him to drop at around 180 yards, but when you find out it was a perfect number and 96 yards it leaves you wondering, “what the hell is the big deal?” Bummer I have a full swing instead of the most awkward number in golf.
Schupak nailed it when he mentioned the 20 million they were playing for. The John Maginnes quote was amazing too, “When we were playing for 2 million you dropped wherever you wanted.” A 20 million dollar purse is going to undoubtedly raise tensions from the 1st tee to the final hole on Sunday (Monday). Hopefully neither Dahmen or Hovland have mob ties because there may be a hit squad waiting in the dark in the near future. Obviously I’m kidding but if these purses keep going up someones gonna get punched in the face during a round on the PGA Tour… which will raise purses and viewership even more.