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Our Experts Explain: Patrick Reed Ruling at Farmer's Insurance Open January 31, 2021

During the  third round of the PGA TOUR’s Farmers Insurance Open, Patrick Reed took embedded ball relief on the 10th hole. The facts of the situation as reported from PGA Tour officials to  the USGA Rules Department were as follows:

  • When Reed approached the greenside rough and noting neither he nor any other players or caddies in the group saw the ball bounce, he asked a volunteer in close proximity if she had seen the ball bounce, and she confirmed that she had not.
  • Reed saw that his ball was sitting down in the rough and had reason to believe his ball was embedded as a result of his last shot. He used Rule 16.4, which allows him to lift his ball after marking its original spot to establish if it was in fact embedded.
  • After lifting, Reed remained unsure if he was entitled to relief and asked for assistance from Brad Fabel, a PGA TOUR rules official.
  • Fabel confirmed that the spot from which Reed had lifted his ball was a pitch-mark and that it was reasonable to conclude that the ball was embedded in its own pitch-mark and that relief was allowed under Rule 16.3.


The USGA was asked by the PGA Tour to review the facts of the incident and is supportive of the ruling provided to Patrick Reed and would further note that the subsequent discovery that the ball had bounced before coming to rest does not change the accuracy of the PGA TOUR’s ruling.

All relief Rules are drafted with a standard of confidence that must be met in order for a player to use the Rule. These standards are in place to ensure that a player can proceed on the basis of what is known at the time, so that he or she is protected from penalty should any subsequent information change the facts as they were known at the time the player made the stroke. Without these protections, a player would always be in jeopardy of additional information coming to light.

The specific Rule in question (Rule 16.3 – Embedded Ball relief) uses the standard, “reasonable to conclude” and it allows a player to proceed under embedded ball relief when it is reasonable to conclude the ball is embedded in its own pitch-mark as a result of the last stroke, and Reed’s situation at the Farmers Insurance Open is a good example of why the Rules are drafted with these protections in place.