Hoping for a climbdown over the caddie rule? You'll be disappointed
This felt like a big moment for the new Rules of Golf. In the wake of the Denny McCarthy and Haotong Li dramas, how the R&A and USGA responded to criticism of the ‘caddie rule’ would be critical for the way their new directives could be perceived and interpreted in the future.
So we’ve waited in anticipation for the expected clarification on Rule 10.2b (4) – or the ‘restriction on caddie standing behind player’ for those without an encyclopaedic knowledge of the numbers.
That there was a need for change was obvious. Whether the interpretation of Derek Smith’s lingering behind McCarthy at the Phoenix Open was correct to letter of the law or not, it felt wrong.
The player had reset, the caddie wasn’t in sight, but there was nowhere to go in the Rules. A penalty had to be applied. All that rescinding it meant was that we were destined to see some quick changes.
And so here they are. But for those on the side of Li, or who think the rule is an abomination, the two major tweaks that have been issued by the game’s rulemakers are probably not what they wanted.
Let’s look at them in a little more detail.
What is ‘begins taking a stance for the stroke’ in the caddie rule?
Never have seven words proved so complicated. This was at the hub of many complaints regarding both the Li and McCarthy incidents.
This first clarification now removes any confusion surrounding the meaning of when a player starts to take a stance.
They are judged to have begun that process when they have “at least one foot in position for that stance”.
That’s game set and match for Haotong…
— Brian McKinley (@brijon5555) January 27, 2019
If they back away, and they can now do that “anywhere on the course”, they will avoid a breach of Rule 10.2b (4) as long as they don’t begin to take a stance again until after the caddie has moved out of that location.
This does raise the prospect of us seeing golf’s version of the Hokey Cokey, as uncertain players put their feet in and out, but it does provide certainty.
So McCarthy’s reset avoids the breach. But Li, who did not back away and was judged to have begun taking his stance with his caddie still “deliberately standing on or close to an extension of the line of play behind the ball”, would be penalised.
That leads neatly onto…
What does ‘deliberately’ mean in the caddie rule?
Who is the judge of what is deliberate? As it stood, it was a grey area.
Now the R&A and USGA have put down firm guidance on what that term actually defines.
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 if they aren’t, it isn’t deliberate.
Neither is it if they are raking a bunker, or taking another action to care for the course, and aren’t aware they are doing so on or close to that line of play.
If the caddie is facing away from the player, or looking in a different direction as a stance is taken, if they are checking yardage, or if a player taps in – none of these are considered deliberate acts.
What does it all mean?
This should go someway towards placating those horrified by the McCarthy incident but it still feels like there is some room for interpretation by rules officials.
If you take this to an unlikely degree, there is a situation – for example – where a caddie stands behind a player and then attempts to look away, or faces in a different direction, at the last second in order to avoid their actions being deemed as deliberate.
Now those who attempt to circumvent the primary purpose of the rule will see their caddie’s actions treated as deliberate, but it will take an official on the spot to decide if that’s the case.
You might say this scenario is pedantic but was the penalty imposed on McCarthy any different?
Those who don’t like the rule at all will obviously be disappointed. I’ve also seen this described in various outlets as a climbdown, or softening, by the R&A and USGA.
But, in my opinion, it’s nothing of the sort. It’s a clarification brought about by a specific incident. The actual principle of the Rule itself has been even further concreted.
In short, if a caddie is deemed to be ‘deliberately’ standing behind a player when they take a stance a penalty is going to be assessed.
It’s said to be terrifying caddies across the Tours. But the solution is very straightforward. Just get out of the way of the shot.