Stumped by something you've seen out on the course? Our Rules of Golf expert delves into the book to find you the answers

Despite the simplification of the Rules of Golf at the beginning of 2019, there are still some that stump us. And as I’ve passed the R&A’s level 2 rules exam with distinction, I am more than happy to help.

Hughie Thomas emailed me to ask: “Is it illegal for an opponent to stand behind a player while they are putting in order to see the break of the putt?”

He adds: “My question was triggered by one of my opponents in our group standing behind me to try and get the line on my putt. I stood up straight and motioned him away from behind me and I even commented to him, ‘Not only is it illegal, but it is rude.’  He responded with ‘It is not illegal, I checked.’  

Rules of Golf explained: Our expert says…

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news Hughie but, though it might feel wrong, there is nothing in the Rules to stop a fellow competitor, or opponent, standing wherever they like – even if that means they’re behind you tracking the exact line of your putt.

Rule 10.2b (4), which covers the restrictions on a caddie standing behind a player, only extends to partners, team players and their bag carriers under Rules 22, 23 and 24.

Rule 1.2a, which looks at standards of player conduct, expects all players to “play in the spirit of the game” and one of the examples given is not distracting the play of another player.

Even then there is no penalty under the Rules for failing to act in this way.

A referee friend of mine suggests an avenue would be to use a Code of Conduct. It could legislate for “being disrespectful of other players” but only insofar as penalising a distracting player for refusing to move when asked. But there’s nothing that actually stops them standing there in the first place.

Maybe some of you out there will feel it’s not quite right. But there will be others who will feel they’re acting entirely within the Rules. It’s all down to conscience and the game’s spirit, I suppose. Where does yours lie?

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Steve Carroll

A journalist for 23 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former captain and committee member, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the national Tournament Administrators and Referee's Seminar. He has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying and the PGA Fourball Championship. A member of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap.

Handicap: 10.9

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