Tensions are high during a rules disagreement at the Hong Kong Open
Tensions are high during a rules disagreement at the Hong Kong Open

It’s true that the Hong Kong Open has been around for 64 years, but the 2023 game was one of the most exciting in its history.

Saturday, Cameron Smith beat New Zealand’s Ben Campbell by a shot. But in the middle of the round, both players got involved in a strange rules dispute with the third player in their group that lasted more than 15 minutes.

Smith, who is placed 19th in the world, was one shot behind Thailand’s Phachara Khongwatmai on the 16th tee at Hong Kong Golf Club. Khongwatmai blocked Smith’s tee shot right into thick trees and took a few minutes to think about how to hit the second shot.

No. 261 ranked Khongwatmai couldn’t move his second shot from the bush forward. He called a rules official and then talked about his options for 15 minutes while Smith and Campbell looked on in frustration.

Campbell said, “He’s moving things all around it.” “What makes this green?” It is clear that this is alive.”

It was heard on the show that Campbell asked for another rules official and said, “He’s broken these branches here…” Wow.”

Khongwatmai looked at Campbell and Smith during the event and asked, “Are you guys happy?” I won’t do it if you don’t want me to.

Rule 8 of the Golf Rules says, “Course Played as it is Found.” This is what makes Campbell and Smith so angry. It says in Rule 8.1, which lists acts that are not allowed, “A player must not do any of these things if they make the conditions affecting the stroke better: In order to play a ball from the teeing area, you may not move, bend, or break any natural object that is growing or connected to the ground, any immovable obstruction, any integral or boundary object, or any tee-marker for that area.

There were cameras that caught Smith giving up and going back to his own shot. People on TV said, “I’ve never seen this before.” You can tell that his game partners are unhappy.

Khongwatmai thought about his third shot some more before he threw it out of the trees and into the rough. He didn’t get in trouble, but he did make double-bogey 6, while Smith made par to take the lead going into the 17th hole.

Campbell and Khongwatmai then birdied the 17th hole, making it a three-way tie for the lead going into the 72nd hole. After a chip out on 18, Smith hit his drive into the trees on 18. His third shot from 110 yards almost went in. He made the putt for par and a score of 18 under par. Campbell hit his tee shot to 15 feet and made the birdie putt to win (19 under). Khongwatmai missed a three-putt for bogey, which put him tied for third place with 17 under.

“Today I didn’t putt as well as the last three days, but I played well from the first hole to the sixteenth,” Khongwatmai said. “I couldn’t do anything at that time because I was in a very tough situation.” There were also broken trees in the way, so I couldn’t take a step back to drop the ball. I had to try again and again to hit it. But I’m happy with how I did generally, even though I’m below par for today.

Smith was upset that he couldn’t get his first win in Asia.

“I guess I was pretty bad over the weekend, but I stuck it out, so lots of good things,” he said. “The golf I played over the last few days wasn’t great, I still have a lot to work on.”

Smith will have a week to get better before defending his title at the Australian PGA Championship at Royal Queensland in Brisbane. The next week, he will play in the Australian Open in Sydney.

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