He Was Golfing Too Slowly. It Cost Him $240,000.

Adrian Meronk plays a tee shot during LIV Golf’s Jeddah event.
Adrian Meronk plays a tee shot during LIV Golf’s Jeddah event.

Summary

Adrian Meronk looked to have scored a big payday when he sank a birdie putt on the final hole of a LIV Golf tournament. That’s until he received a very costly penalty for taking too long on his shot.

Polish golfer Adrian Meronk stood over his second shot on the 18th hole of a pro tournament on Sunday and saw another opportunity to climb up the leaderboard. A late birdie in the final round would see him take home an even richer payday from the lucrative event.

But the time Meronk spent mulling that shot turned out to be extraordinarily costly.

Meronk’s birdie was changed to a par after he was assessed a one-stroke penalty for violating the pace of play policy. LIV Golf said that Meronk’s group, which included Masters champion Jon Rahm, had already been warned by a rules official for lagging behind. Then, on that shot on the 18th hole, Meronk was timed at over two minutes, exceeding the time allowed.

That proved to be hugely consequential. Had his original score stood, Meronk would have tied for fifth place with Rahm at 11-under and won $750,000 in prize money at LIV’s tournament in Saudi Arabia. Instead, Meronk ended up in a six-way tie for sixth and won $508,750—a loss of $241,250

The world of golf has been no stranger to controversy in recent years, with the Saudi-backed LIV Golf at the center of the drama. Pace of play has been a less high-profile issue, but one that has proved almost as divisive. Some players are notorious for spending ages scrutinizing each shot as if it’s a complex mathematical equation. Others are both faster on the course and quicker to air their feelings when slow play grinds down the pace at tournaments to the leisurely speed that everyday hackers might experience on a summer weekend at the local muni.

Five-time major champion Brooks Koepka is someone who doesn’t exactly hide his frustration when he’s forced to wait at every tee box. The topic became a flashpoint during the final round of last year’s Masters, when he was competing with Jon Rahm for the green jacket and ultimately fell short.

“The group in front of us was brutally slow," Koepka said last April. “Jon went to the bathroom like seven times during the round, and we were still waiting."

Koepka is far from alone in his frustrations, but that hasn’t produced a universal solution. The PGA Tour has implemented a system to fine players for time violations, but hasn’t docked anyone a stroke in years. LIV’s decision was to punish laggards with a penalty that can be even costlier than a fine—as Adrian Meronk found out the hard way.

Meronk, 30 years old, was one of LIV’s new additions ahead of this season and began this tournament at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City by playing some of the best golf of his life. In the opening round, he fired an 8-under 62 that left him tied with Rahm atop the leaderboard.

“Could have been lower," Meronk said after the round, “but just overall the whole game was quite solid.

That put Meronk in prime position to cash in on the enormous prize money offered by a league that is backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign-wealth fund. The individual winner at LIV events cashes $4 million. By contrast, on Europe’s DP World Tour last season, Meronk won three times and earned a total of €2.4 million, or roughly $2.6 million.

By late Sunday, Chilean Joaquín Niemann had surged far ahead of the field and would cruise to a four-stroke victory. But everyone behind him was still vying for their chunk of the $20 million individual pot. Unlike a typical PGA Tour event, where there’s a cut midway through the tournament, even LIV’s worst performers walk away with a decent check. At this event, the last-place finisher was none other than Anthony Kim, who was 16-over par—11 strokes behind the next player—in his return to pro golf after more than a decade away. He still got $50,000 for his efforts.

Meronk lost nearly five times that amount when he spent too long on his shot.

This isn’t the first time LIV has assessed such a penalty. The league’s policy says that a player has 40 seconds to shoot, with an additional 10 seconds if they’re the first up in the group. Richard Bland was dinged after taking 84 seconds last year, though he finished that tournament in the middle of the pack and the difference in his payout was relatively small.

For Meronk, by contrast, it amounted to nearly a quarter of a million bucks.

Write to Andrew Beaton at andrew.beaton@wsj.com

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