Over the last two weeks, alignment penalties applied to players near the top of the leaderboard in PGA TOUR and European Tour events have melted the internet.
Two weeks ago in the Dubai Desert Classic, Haotong Li was penalized two shots on the 72nd green for his caddie walking out from behind Li as Li walked into his final putt tap-in. The penalty cost him $100K.
This past Friday at the Phoenix Open, Denny McCarthy also received a surprising alignment penalty. As seen in video here, McCarthy was standing along side but a foot away from his ball making some little practice swings, talking to his caddie about a simple 65-yard pitch. When the conversation stopped, McCarthy backed away a couple of steps. Then his caddie walked out, McCarthy walked in and hit the shot. After the round, McCarthy was penalized two shots, sending him from 8-under par to 6-under par to start Saturday’s round.
The reason for both infractions: new Rule 10.2b(4), which states that once the player begins taking a stance for the stroke and until that stroke is made, the player’s caddie must not deliberately stand on or close to an extension of the line of play behind the ball for any reason.
The USGA, PGA TOUR and R&A took so much heat from the best known players in the game that they reviewed then backed off the penalty to McCarthy. They also promised a significant review and possible re-wording of the Rule. The USGA’s official statement:
Now, think the hullabaloo over this new “alignment rule” is already loud and crazy? Wait until this spring, when amateur tournaments begin. Because the potential for arguments and accusations have only just begun.
Lost thus far in the conversation is the fact that this new rule applies not only to tournaments big enough for players with caddies, but Rule 10.2b(4) also applies to AMATEURS PLAYING WITH PARTNERS IN A TEAM EVENT.
Three players watching the break of a putt from behind their partner in a 4-Man Scramble?
That’s now illegal under Rule 10.2b(4).
One amateur standing behind another in a better ball tournament, even if he doesn’t ask his partner how his alignment looks?
Also now illegal under Rule 10.2b(4).
For Rule 10.2b(4), the prohibition against standing behind a player in the process of setting up to and making a stroke applies to the player’s caddie, to any partner in a team event, and to the caddie of any partner in a team event.
Since teammates standing behind their player is the de facto operating procedure in better ball and scramble events (perhaps since the days of shepherds hitting rocks), I asked NOPGA Tournament Director David Griffith how the NOPGA plans to handle this rule for their team events in 2019.
“Great question. The USGA now recognizes the Scramble format in the Official Guide to the Rules of Golf on page 510,” said Griffith. “However, the Rules only talk about how a scramble is played, not specific rules that might be different than any other form of play. So the NOPGA will follow all of the Rules in the book. We will only allow the players to read putts from behind. Then when a player begins to address the ball, his partners cannot stand on an extension of line of putt — even in a scramble.”
When asked if a local rule might ever make sense to eliminate Rule 10.2b(4) for a scramble or better ball, Griffith said, “That gets tricky. I would recommend to follow the book whenever possible.”
Let’s hope that when the USGA and R&A reviews this Rule and creates any new language or clarifications, they spend some time thinking about amateur team competitions and factor those players’ situations into any revision.
Otherwise, only a few of the hornets have come out of this nest so far…