(Reuters) - The clarification issued on where and when a caddie can stand behind a player who is lining up a shot is a much-needed improvement, according to a PGA Tour caddie who said the rule had created confusion.
The Royal & Ancient (R&A) and United States Golf Association (USGA) issued a joint statement on Wednesday attempting to clarify the rule following two controversial incidents at two different events.
China’s Li Haotong, at the Dubai Desert Classic last week, and Denny McCarthy, at the Phoenix Open two weeks ago, were handed two-stroke penalties for getting help from their caddies.
Li was penalized when his caddie, who had been standing behind him, moved to the side after he had started to take his stance for a putt.
His two-shot penalty was upheld by the R&A while McCarthy’s was rescinded a day later after consultations with officials determined there had been similar incidents involving other players that were not penalized.
The rule tweak specifies that there must be intent on the caddie’s part to help his player get aligned to the target while the player takes a stance, so that inadvertent situations will no longer lead to penalties.
Clarifying the rule, the USGA and R&A said in a statement: “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.”
The change was part of a package of new rules introduced on Jan. 1 and Thomas Pagel, the USGA senior managing director of governance, said it was expected there would be an adjustment period.
“Experience has taught us that introducing a new rule requires us to balance patience with a willingness to act quickly when necessary,” Pagel said in a statement.
Caddie Scott Sajtinac, who worked the Phoenix Open for Luke List, was watching on television with other caddies when the McCarthy transgression took place.
“There were six of us at the table with 150 years of caddying experience, and we were all still uncertain about this rule,” Sajtinac told Reuters in a telephone conversation.
“None of knew exactly what was up. And that’s after (we’ve been to) USGA seminars where theme of intent kept being pushed.”
Sajtinac said helping a player pick out a target before each shot was different to helping with alignment.
He was certain that McCarthy’s caddie had not been the only one to inadvertently transgress.
“I guarantee you that rule had been broken dozens of times already,” Sajtinac said.
Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto and Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Pritha Sarkar/Greg Stutchbury