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backstopping ball moves on green

Did you miss the rules update on backstopping?

Golf's governing bodies added a clarification on backstopping into January's update of the Rules of Golf. So what have the R&A and USGA changed?
 

Backstopping is the rules drama that just won’t go away. Kevin Na and Russell Knox were the latest to get caught up in a fans’ furore at The American Express – with plenty piling in on social media to ask why Na hadn’t marked his ball close to the hole before Knox played out of the greenside bunker at the 16th during his second round.

While we know intentional backstopping is covered under Rule 15.3a, if there is no agreement to leave the ball in place to help any player, there is no breach of the rules.

This might have passed you by but, in their latest clarifications to the 2019 Rules of Golf – a quarterly review process that was updated by the R&A and USGA at the start of the month – guidance and best practice was issued.

“The R&A and USGA take the view that ‘backstopping’ fails to take into account all of the other players in the competition and has the potential to give the player with the ‘backstop’ an advantage over those other players,” they wrote.

“Consequently, the R&A and USGA offer players the following guidance and explanation of best practice:

“In stroke player, the competition involves all players and, because each player in the competition cannot be present to protect his or her own interests, protecting the field is an important responsibility that all players in the competition share.

“Therefore, in strokeplay, if there is a reasonable possibility that a player’s ball close to the hole could help another player who is about to play from off the green, both players should ensure that the player whose ball is close to the hole marks and lifts that ball before the other player plays.

“If all players follow this best practice, it ensures the protection of the interests of everyone in the competition.”

So what happens to backstopping offenders?

There may still not be a compulsion for players to remove a ball that may interfere, but the two bodies are making their preferences pretty plain in this clarification.

A player, of course, can ask for a ball on the green to be lifted if they think it will help anyone’s play, under Rule 15.3a, and refusal to comply would result in disqualification for deliberately ignoring a rule.

But it will be interesting to see if this guidance becomes common practice on tour or, if not, whether the governing bodies are then prepared to lay it down in law in a future rules update.

What do you think about backstopping? Have your say in the comments or tweet me.

Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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