The R&A issues clarification of controversial caddie alignment rule

Haotong Li

Over the past couple of weeks, players on both the European Tour and PGA Tour have ridiculed the new Rule 10.2b(4) regarding restrictions on caddies standing behind players.

It followed two high-profile penalties on each tour. Firstly, Haotong Li lost close to $100,000 after a European Tour rules official deemed his caddie to have lined him up on the 72nd hole of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.

The video replay put the penalty into question, as Li did not appear to be into his stance when the penalty was assessed.

European Tour CEO Keith Pelley said the rule was ‘grossly unfair’, but R&A chief Martin Slumbers hit back, saying there is ‘no discretionary element to the rule precisely so that it is easier to understand and can be applied consistently’.

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Then last week at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, Denny McCarthy received the same penalty while playing a shot into a green.

After this, numerous players – including Justin Thomas – made their feelings known on Twitter and the backlash was so strong that the PGA Tour stepped in and rescinded the penalty the next day.

Yesterday, the R&A provided two clarifications to Rule 10.2b(4), which take immediate effect.

“The purpose of Rule 10.2 is to reinforce the fundamental challenge of making a stroke and to limit the advice and other help a player may receive during a round,” the R&A said in a statement. “Rule 10.2b(4) ensures that aiming at the intended target is a challenge that the player must overcome alone.

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The two clarifications are as follows:

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.

So while these clarifications would have let McCarthy off the hook, Li would still have been penalised due to the caddie’s intent. This is because his caddie was aware he was deliberately behind him when he took his stance and proved this awareness when he tried to walk away as Li moved into his stance.

In other words, pros, perhaps just to advise your caddie not to stand behind you at any point during the round, just to be on the safe side.

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