R&A, USGA Make Clarification To Caddie Rule

Despite victories by Justin Rose, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Rickie Fowler in the first six weeks of 2019, the updated Rules of Golf have been the overwhelming story in professional golf. 

From infractions that have caused $100,000 swings, to penalties being rescinded at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, the rules are running amok. And as such, the governing bodies would like a mulligan… sort of.

On Wednesday, prior to competition getting underway around the world, the R&A and USGA released a joint statement clarifying the contentious Rule 10.2(b), the rule that prohibits caddies from standing behind a player in an effort to aid their alignment.

Penalty Under New Rules Costs Li Over $100,000

According to the release, here are the two clarifications being made:

  • Meaning of “Begins Taking a Stance for the Stroke”:  If a player backs away from a stance, the player is not considered to have begun “a stance for the stroke.” Therefore, a player can now back away from his or her stance anywhere on the course and avoid a breach of Rule 10.2b(4) if the caddie had been standing in a location behind the ball.
  • Examples of When a Caddie is Not “Deliberately” Standing Behind the Ball When a Player Begins Taking Stance for Stroke: As written, the Rule does not apply if a caddie is not deliberately standing behind a player. It is clarified that the term deliberately” requires a caddie to be aware that 1) the player is beginning to take a stance for the stroke to be played and 2) he or she (the caddie) is standing on or close to an extension of the line of play behind the ball. Several examples are given in the clarification to provide additional guidance.
PGA Tour Rescinds Pro’s 2-Stroke Penalty

The clarifications come in direct response to penalties being levied on both the PGA Tour and European Tour in controversial fashion. China’s Haotong Li was docked two strokes on the 72nd green of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic for what was considered a breach of the rule. 

In the aftermath of the penalty, which cost Li over $100,000 in prize money, European Tour commissioner Keith Pelley called upon the governing bodies to allow officials to interpret the rule as it was intended.

Then, last week at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, PGA Tour pro Denny McCarthy was similarly penalized controversially while hitting a 65-yard approach shot. McCarthy’s penalty was subsequently rescinded after other possible infractions were brought to the rules committee’s attention.

“It was clear last week at the Waste Management Phoenix Open that there was a great deal of confusion among players and caddies on the practical application of Rule 10.2b(4) during competition, as well as questions surrounding the language of the rule itself and how it should be interpreted,” the PGA Tour said in a statement. “We thank the USGA and The R&A for their cooperation in interpreting the rule last week in competition and the subsequent clarifications made today, which we were involved with and fully supportive of.”

“These clarifications are designed to improve the operation of the rule and give the players more opportunity to avoid a breach while remaining true to the purpose of the rule,” the executive director of governance for the R&A, David Rickman, said in the joint release.