Pro golfer withdraws from tournament after receiving 10-stroke penalty

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Mark Hensby has been a professional golfer for 26 years. He's played in 193 PGA Tour events and made nearly $1 million in prize money from those tournaments. 

And yet, one rule bit him hard on Thursday.

The 49-year-old Hensby, playing in only his second event in three years, saw a 3-over 74 turn into a ghastly 84 in the first round of the Palmetto Championship at Congaree when he was assessed a 10-stroke penalty.

Hensby's offense? Well, it started on a 633-yard, par-5 fourth hole when he hit his third shot into the water near the green. The Australian dropped and played out the hole, then played four more holes before taking a closer look at his ball and receiving a nasty surprise.

From the PGA Tour:

“I asked my caddie, ‘Hey what's this dot on the ball? I've never noticed this before; did they do something with the new pro V1?’” Hensby told PGATOUR.COM. “And he didn’t know, so I asked my playing partners and they were like, ‘That's a low spin ball.’ Now I don't use this ball, so there was a lot of confusion where it came from – none of my others had the dot – but we knew I had played the wrong ball.”

It turned out that Hensby had picked up a ball belonging to fellow pro Pat Perez while warming up on the putting green before the tournament, then dropped that ball on the fourth hole. Playing with a different ball in a round is illegal the Model Local Rule G-4 (a.k.a. the One Ball Rule), per the Tour's site, as tournaments don't want players switching balls depending on the shot or hole.

Hensby called over senior tournament referee Mike Peterson to report the switch, and received a two-stroke penalty for each hole played with the wrong ball, adding up to 10 strokes lost. There used to be a maximum penalty of four strokes, but a rule change in 2019 opened Hensby up for the extreme punishment.

The visible difference between the balls was apparently minute:

“If you look at both balls it's hard to know the difference,” he continued. “It's not like one is black and one is red. They're both black, but one has a small dot on it and one doesn't. Unfortunately, I didn't notice that. I’m glad he didn’t use mine.”

To Hensby's credit, the penalty — which pushed his score to 12-over through eight holes — didn't appear to rattle him. He made par on the ninth hole, then shot a 1-over 36 on the back nine to finish the round with some dignity.

That would be the end of the tournament for Hensby though, as he understandably withdrew following the first round.

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