COLUMBUS, Ohio — Hideki Matsuyama was disqualified from the first round of the Memorial on Thursday for having an illegal substance on the face of his 3-wood.
PGA Tour chief referee Steve Rintoul said the tour became aware of the issue after someone emailed a photograph of the 3-wood, which had been posted to Instagram. Rintoul said rules officials were immediately sent to find Matsuyama, who was playing the first hole at Muirfield Village Golf Club.
Matsuyama was asked if he was carrying the club and whether he had used it. He told them he had used it to tee off on the first hole. Rintoul said white correction fluid was applied to the club’s face to help Matsuyama center the ball.
“The damage was done,” Rintoul said. “One shot and it’s a disqualification.”
Rintoul later met Matsuyama on the fifth fairway and told him to keep playing, while he consulted with USGA rules officials about whether or not he was playing with a non-conforming club.
Rules officials determined that Matsuyama had violated the equipment standard rule, rule 4.a.(3) of the Rules of Golf, which states “a player must not make a stroke with a club whose performance characteristics he or she deliberately changed during the round.” According to the Rules of Golf, a violation can occur by “using an adjustable feature or physically changing the club,” or by “applying any substance to the clubhead (other than cleaning it) to affect how it performs in making a stroke.”
“A substance or any treatment can’t be applied to the face of a club which could influence the flight of the ball, the spin, the loft or anything on the ball, how the ball performs,” Rintoul said.
“So, at that point it was how much of this substance is actually on the face of the club? And the pictures were damning. … There was a lot of the white. It’s very much like a whiteout you might use on a paper at home. A whiteout substance that was very much up on the face of the club which, really, it’s very clear in equipment rules that’s not allowed.”
Matsuyama, the 2021 Masters champion, was informed of his disqualification by a rules official while making the turn. He was 2 over after nine holes. It was the first disqualification of his PGA Tour career.
Matsuyama declined to comment.
“The equipment rules are very specific: it’s OK to have very small discrete markings on your face for alignment purposes, like a Sharpie dot here and there, that aren’t going to influence the ball,” Rintoul said. “But that much substance is clearly above what the equipment rules allow. If the paint had been down in the grooves and in the bottom of the grooves where it’s not on the face, not making contact with the ball, again, no problem.”
Rintoul said one of Matsuyama’s team members had previously been warned about not putting a substance on a club face. Rintoul recalled it happening with Matsuyama’s driver in the past. Rintoul said the equipment rep told him on Thursday that he believed the rule only applied to drivers.
“I will say it was a mistake on their behalf,” Rintoul said.