A bizarre series of events and some controversy arrived at Royal Pines during Thursday’s opening round of the Australian PGA Championship, when John Senden’s driver snapped during his downswing on the 9th tee.
Two-under-par at the time and making his way into tournament contention, Senden missed the ball on the par-5 tee and reeled away shaking his hand in obvious discomfort, with his playing partners, Harold Varner and Geoff Ogilvy, and television commentators immediately concerned with his health.
Before it was realised the shaft of the driver had snapped under the grip, causing the air swing and subsequent pain, when the broken shaft pinched Senden’s finger.
“The actual club broke in the handle coming down into the impact area,” Senden said of the incident. “I had no chance of actually stopping the shot, so unfortunately that counts as actually one stroke. I was playing two shots off the tee. So, you know, it just happens. I've seen it happen before to other players, but first time it's happened to me in a tournament.”
While Senden was happy to accept the air swing as a shot, discussions with rules officials continued for some time as they debated whether he had attempted to stop his swing, before a decision had to be made as to whether the Queenslander would play his next from the high tee he had prepared for his driver.
Ogilvy was perplexed by the potential outcome that would have seen his fellow Australian Open champion hit 3-wood from the high tee.
“It was a spin out. It was a bizarre moment, because I didn’t know if he had snapped his wrist or something had popped in his backswing or his downswing,” Ogilvy told Golf Australia magazineof watching the chain of events unfold in front of him.
“He came off grabbing his hand and I thought maybe something had popped in his wrist or something and he couldn’t keep going or something.
“Then kind of the confusion afterwards, no one really knew what to do. The ruling made no sense. The ruling that he had to play the next shot from a high tee made no sense to me. The decision whether it’s a fresh air or not, that’s I don’t know, that’s a 50-50, at some point he wasn’t trying to hit the ball anymore, but how late can you decide that I don’t know.
“But the next 15 minutes, he doesn’t have a driver anymore and the ball is in play. I’ve never seen a ball on a tee in play, I didn’t understand that. So, he couldn’t now hit his 3-wood. And then he eventually ended up dropping it.
“Now what’s weird about that too is that if it ends up not intentional and not a fresh air, not a miss, he has then played that hole dropping it on the tee and hitting an iron, which is not really a level playing field. It’s a weird situation, I’ve seen clubs break in the swing before but never quite … that was close to like the point of no return.”
Varner admitted to being similarly bemused by the situation, while veteran caddie Mike ‘Sponge’ Waite, who is carrying Senden’s bag this week, confirmed after the round he had never seen anything similar in all his years on Tour.
The ongoing discussions regarding the ruling eventually resulted in Senden taking a drop on the 9th tee, after the tee was ruled as an obstruction, with Senden entitled to relief.
“As soon as he has played the shot (the air swing), that ball becomes a ball in play,” European Tour Chief Referee John Paramor told Golf Australia of the ruling.
“So he is now sitting on a tee peg, which is artificial or man-made, therefore it’s an obstruction. If your ball is on a movable obstruction, you can lift your ball, move the obstruction, and then drop on the course directly above where that obstruction was.
“He could play it from the peg, but what he couldn’t do and what he wanted to do, was push the peg further down.”
Paramor has seen the exact same event transpire previously on the European Tour before, but admitted it is an extremely rare occurrence ... One that clearly caught Senden by surprise and appeared to rattle the 47-year-old, who while obviously not pleased to have to play out his round without a driver and take bogey at a reachable par-5 handled the incident extremely well.
Varner described Senden as a “class act”.
“So the whole thing was, it was really … it actually spooked me a bit,” Senden said.
“There's no exception, it's just the rule. You can't argue against the rule. Unfortunately, when you intend to hit a shot and you don't hit it, it's one stroke. That's the way it goes.”
After a long discussion in the scorer’s tent after the round, all parties were clear on the rule and Senden’s even-par round of 72 stood.
Ogilvy summed up the feelings of almost everyone on site at Royal Pines regarding the bizarre incident.
“I thought more he hurt himself, pretty quickly I realised his club had broken, but it appeared like it had stabbed him in the finger and that graphite stuff can be a nasty thing. It turns out he nearly ended up making an unbelievable par, even with the fresh air, so it’s a par if he didn’t have one of those. He played well with a 3-wood after that. It’s not a fun course in the wind with just a 3-wood and no driver. One of those weird things.”