Statement from PGA TOUR on Rule 10.2b(4): No Penalties Until The Rule Can Be Changed

This one is certainly unprecedented: a rule of golf suspended and just a month into its implementation.

Furthermore, we have a retroactive rescinding of a penalty, admission that the wording of a simplified rule has confused people, and even the possibility of multiple recent past situations being brought up to the point that the PGA Tour referees are spending their days reviewing video.

Here is the statement issued at 3:02 pm ET, with interruptions:

Statement from PGA TOUR on Rule 10.2b(4)

Since the situation during Round 2 of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, which resulted in PGA TOUR player Denny McCarthy receiving a two-stroke penalty under Rule 10.2b(4), the PGA TOUR has been in constant contact with the USGA about how the new rule should be interpreted. 

Oh to see that Slack!

During the course of these discussions, this morning a similar situation from yesterday’s round involving Justin Thomas was also brought to our attention. 

Big names involved, this is getting too dangerous!

It is clear that there is a great deal of confusion among players and caddies on the practical application of the new rule during competition, as well as questions surrounding the language of the rule itself and how it should be interpreted. 

So at least one thing is clear in this.

As a result, with the full support of the USGA and The R&A, the rule will be interpreted whereby the two aforementioned situations as well as future similar situations will not result in a penalty.  McCarthy’s score has been updated accordingly. 

Good thing he made the cut.

We will be working vigorously with the USGA and The R&A over the coming days to further analyze and improve the situation with this rule.  The USGA and The R&A will be making an announcement shortly.

And here is the USGA’s statement issued to Golfweek:

Following an ongoing dialogue with players and in cooperation with the PGA TOUR rules team, the USGA and The R&A revisited the penalty assessed to Denny McCarthy during round 2 of the Waste Management Phoenix Open. After an additional review of available video this morning, it was determined that the penalty would not apply in this instance nor in a similar instance involving Justin Thomas. In each of these cases, when the caddie was standing behind the player, the player had not yet begun taking the stance for the stroke, nor could useful guidance on aiming be given because the player was still in the process of determining how to play the stroke. The same would be true for any similar situation that might occur.

The USGA and The R&A recognize that further clarity on how to appropriately apply this Rule is needed. We are committed to assessing its impact and will provide the necessary clarifications in the coming days.

This would seem to be a new interpretation of the rule given that the language I’ve read and the instructions players received said that any kind of caddie involvement behind the player as they began their stance taking was a violation.

Now it would seem a “useful guidance” element has been added. Wow.

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Sergio Garcia Probably Needs To Be Given The Year Off, For Starters

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I’ve quizzed longtime observers and no one can come up with anything in the history of professional golf comparable to Sergio Garcia’s disqualification under Rule 1.2a for purposely damaging the Royal Greens.

For a player who lowered the bar when he spit into a Doral cup during the 2007 CA WGC event, the notion of altering the playing field is an entirely different beast. Worse, in his statement he mentions damaging a “couple” of greens, but Martin Dempster, reporting on site for The Scotsman, says it was five greens.

Garcia’s statement:

The incident Saturday culminated a week of bad behavior from Garcia. Alistair Tait noted for Golfweek that “Garcia is alleged to have complained about the greens earlier in the week. The decision came a day after he slammed a club in a bunker in anger.”

James Corrigan also noted the weeklong antics.

Struggling at around level par, Garcia’s renowned rage got the better of him as he slammed his club into the putting surfaces on multiple occasions. Observers at the Royal Greens Country Club revealed that he was heard criticisng the greens earlier in the week and on Friday was seen taking out his dislike of the bunkers by smashing down his sand-wedge.

The American Patrick Reed was involved as he was in the group immediately behind Garcia that first drew the officials’ attention to the gouges on the greens. The three groups following Reed also complained to the referees and it was then that Tour chief executive, Keith Pelley, confronted Garcia.

Ewan Murray noted this about the incident for The Guardian:

Sky Sports curiously reserved little attention for this newsworthy situation at the conclusion of their live broadcast, with the 62 produced by China’s Li Haotong deemed worthy of far more coverage.

Pelley could have done without these antics by one of his tour’s most high-profile players. The European Tour’s decision to visit Saudi Arabia for the first time has been subject of widespread criticism on the basis of human rights infringements by the country.

Here is the meeting with Pelley after play:

The dreadful incident is a fitting black eye for a tournament that should not have been played. But beyond the optics, given the weeklong behavior, the career of etiquette breaches and the absurdity of damaging the host course, Garcia should be suspended for the remainder of the 2019 season.

Consider the last penalty for a rule 1.2a violation from Corrigan’s account:

The last high-profile pro to be hit with a misconduct charge was Simon Dyson in 2013. The Yorkshireman was disqualified from the BMW Masters and was forced to pay a £30,000 fine and received a two-month suspended ban. Dyson's crime was to tap down a spike mark, an act that was then against the rules, but which is now allowed.

Dyson’s act was a selfish, split-second mistake that might have improved the playing surface for himself. Garcia intentionally damaged a host venue and left behind poor conditions for those playing after him. It’s an unprecedented breach that calls for an unprecedented penalty.

Another Day, Another Alignment Penalty Prompt's Calls For New Re-Write Of New Rule

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Lots to chew on in the latest dust-up under the new rules and while Haotong Li’s was debatable because of the split second nature, it was a violation.

Denny McCarthy’s infraction in the Waste Management Phoenix Open may be debatable enough from all points of view that a rules re-write is already necessary, as Ryan Lavner writes for Because while there is little question his caddie was directly behind him and where no caddy should be these days under the new rules, McCarthy had technically not taken a stance and was a bit too far from the ball to reasonably hit a shot. He also then backs off and goes through his routine, something that would absolve his caddie on the greens, but not in a fairway. Oy.

He was immediately deemed to have been in a “golf posture” and therefore guilty of a violation under 10.2b (4).

Here goes:

The rule is destined to fail because of the difference between green and tee/fairway situations. Lavner offers a solution that I know the folks in Far Hills and St. Andrews will be grateful for.

So here’s what the governing bodies should do, as soon as possible:

1. Allow players to back away and reset anywhere on the course, not just the greens;

2. Remove the phrase “begins taking a stance”  – because even they admit that there is “no set procedure” for determining when that begins – and replace it with “takes a final stance”;

3. Reinforce that only “deliberate” intent to align should be subject to a two-shot penalty.

I do hate to take this opportunity to point out that the issues with this rule are only partially a product of wording. The lack of serious beta testing, particularly on a stage as large and bizarre as professional golf, is really doing a disservice to what are mostly simplified and improved rules.

The other danger for the governing bodies if they don’t act fast: pro tours adopting a local rule workaround that damages their credibility.

Rules War! Pelley Wants His Referees To Have Leeway On Rules, R&A Fires Back

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In an unprecedented rebuke of the governing bodies—not coincidentally the week his tour lands in lowly Saudi Arabia—European Tour Chief Keith Pelley has blasted the Haotong Li penalty as, of course, detrimental to growing the game.

I’m about to dig in on a column about all of the things this brouhaha is really about, but in the meantime here is Pelley’s statement followed the R&A’s response that arrived 92 minutes later in my Inbox.


‘There has been much discussion and comment over the past 24 hours on the two-shot penalty given to Li Haotong for his breach of Rule 10.2b (4) on the 18th green of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.

‘Let me state initially that, under the new Rules of Golf issued on January 1, 2019, the decision made by our referees was correct, under the strict wording of the rules. It is my strong belief, however, that the fact there is no discretion available to our referees when implementing rulings such as this is wrong and should be addressed immediately. 

‘Everyone I have spoken to about this believes, as I do, that there was no malice or intent from Li Haotong, nor did he gain any advantage from his, or his caddie’s split-second actions. Therefore the subsequent two shot penalty, which moved him from T3 in the tournament to T12, was grossly unfair in my opinion. 

‘In an era where we are striving to improve all aspects of golf, we need to be careful and find the proper balance between maintaining the integrity of the game and promoting its global appeal. 

‘I have spoken personally to R&A Chief Executive Martin Slumbers to voice my opposition to the fact there is no discretion available to our referees in relation to this ruling, and I will be making additional representation to the R&A in the near future to discuss the matter further.’

I am sticking up for my players and making a lot of noise from my luxury hotel where the Crown Prince himself left me a welcome note!


Martin Slumbers, Chief Executive of The R&A, said, “We have reviewed the Li Haotong ruling made by the European Tour referees and agree that it was correct. There has been some misunderstanding of the new Rule and I would point out that it is designed to prevent any opportunity for the caddie to stand behind the player as he begins to take his stance. Whether the player intends to be lined up is not the issue. We appreciate that it was a very unfortunate situation yesterday and I completely understand Keith Pelley's concerns when a Rules incident occurs at such a key stage of a European Tour event but there is no discretionary element to the Rule precisely so that it is easier to understand and can be applied consistently.

“We are continuing to monitor the impact of the new Rules but I made it clear to Keith that our focus is very much on maintaining the integrity of the Rules for all golfers worldwide.”

Here is our chat on Morning Drive today about this.

New Rules Cost Haotong Li: Caddies, Don't Stand Behind Your Player

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File this one under “why tour players get irritable about some of the refreshed Rules of Golf.”

Here is the language:

New Rule: Under Rule 10.2b(4):

  • The previous prohibition is extended so that, once the player begins taking a stance for the stroke, and until the stroke is made, the player’s caddie must not deliberately stand on or close to an extension of the line of play behind the ball for any reason.

  • There is no penalty if the caddie accidentally stands on or close to an extension of the line of play behind the ball, rather than in trying to help in lining up.

Here is Haotong Li in what ended up as a penalty in the Dubai Desert Classic, reports’s Ryan Lavner. It’s a violation as the new rule reads in taking him from third to 12th:

Good rule of thumb here caddies: just don’t stand anywhere behind the player anywhere near the start of a shot and you’ll be fine.

There is a bigger picture issue here as it relates to the new rules and pro golfers being governed by amateur organizations: while this is a violation and was likely accidental, there is a danger of professionals citing this as yet another example of the rules excessively monitoring their livelihood. I’ve picked up some stray jabs and concerns this week about the new rules, and while it’s hard to tell if it’s just a product of the transitional learning adoption phase or something deeper, remains to be seen.

More Flagstick In The Hole Fun: The First World Conundrum Presented, Adam Scott's Success And Could It Ever Be Outlawed?

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As Adam Scott flies up the Farmers Insurance Open leaderboard, his decision to leave the flagstick in the hole is paying off with his best putting in years. Scott explained to me for this Golfweek story how it’s not just the feeling of security on shorter putts to take a more aggressive stroke, but also helping him better gauge reads.

WSJ’s Brian Costa did a nice job summing up the “conundrum” golfers are facing and whether there are benefits, but this was a surprising suggestion from the USGA’s Thomas Pagel:

“If there was some kind of conclusive evidence that showed a significant advantage,” Pagel said, “I think we would have to go back and reevaluate it.”

As I note in this Golfweek video, it would be the ultimate irony if Scott were to finally find peace on the greens as a result of a rules change.

Farmers: Repairing Green Damage Comes To Poa Annua, Will It Matter?


For years pro golfers have fixed ball marks in their lines, increasingly without consulting their playing partners. The governing bodies presumably have created the new green damage repair rule to allow this sometimes questionable improvement of a putting line.

Doug Ferguson of AP considers what will become of the rule now that players have arrived at the sometimes bumpier and more-prone-to-damage poa annua greens at Torrey Pines. Players are still unsure how much can be damaged.

“At Kapalua, I fixed ball marks, but I was only tapping them down because it was Bermuda,” Xander Schauffele said. “Out here, you might do a little more than a simple tap down. ... This place, late in the day, it feels like you’re playing a game of Plinko.”

Schauffele was quick to note one part of the new rule: Damage can be repaired without unusual delay.

“It could, depending on how these players take the rule to heart ... if you’re trying to fix a 40-foot putt, it’s going to be tricky with pace of play,” Schauffele said. “Rules officials will be on us. The time clock hasn’t changed. If you want to spend 35 seconds tapping down the line, you’re going to have to pull the trigger in less than what you normally do.”

I penned this item for Golfweek with Rory McIlroy’s slight concerns about what is and what is not damage. The piece also includes video of what a spikeless-shoe green can look like after a day of play. Granted, 1080p and modern contrast makes the greens look way worse than they are given how far Torrey’s surfaces have come since Tiger’s infamous bouncing putt in the 2008 U.S. Open.

To be clear: the greens are excellent. Smooth as bent in the afternoon? No. But compared to poa of 20 years ago, there is no comparison.

New Rules: Even Tiger Toying With Leaving The Flagstick In

I would have figured the old man is set in his ways, but Bob Harig of ESPN quotes Tiger discussing the new flagstick rules and the Big Cat is warming to the idea. In some situations.

This in particular caught my eye:

"I've been experimenting trying to hit putts downhill at home and see how that feels, and I didn't find that I hit better putts. It just felt like I could hit it more aggressively, which I did. Then I started running it 8 or 9 feet by. It might be more advantageous when we get on faster greens, a little bit more slope, i.e. Augusta. Where you have that sense of security on a 3-footer, a 4-footer down the hill, you can just take a cut at it."

This is going to be fun!

Double-Hit Loophole Artists: Nice Try, But USGA Confirms Penalties Await!

I know you all saw our Morning Drive chat about this on Monday, but as much as I’m enjoying the creativity and skill of trickshot artists who think they found a loophole in the new Rules of Golf, they have not.

As I outline here for Golfweek, the trick shot that spawned a European Tour social video attempting the double hit ignores the very simple word “accidental” in the new more relaxed Rules. The story explains the penalty players will enjoy if they use such a ploy to get around a tree.

Still, nice handwork here by all…

Eduardo: Leaving The Flagstick In Helps To A Point...

Jordan Spieth Predicts Most Amateurs Will Just Ignore The New Drop Rule

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Like many, Jordan Spieth can’t comprehend the notion of being penalized from dropping at shoulder height, as the rules revamp currently calls for.

From Joel Beall’s item at

“What if they just take a drop from the cart path. I don’t think they probably care. They will still drop it from the shoulder. Technically, you take a drop from your shoulder and play out, you could be penalized for that. Doesn’t make much sense.

“It’s a disadvantage to drop it that high, so that one I didn’t really understand fully. It was cool that you’re able to get lower to drop it. I thought you would be able to do it at any height.”

"Absurd" Has Insurmountable Lead In New Drop Rule Sweepstakes!

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The voting suggest the new drop rule is not going over well so far.

After we discussed today on Morning Drive today I heard from several asking the genesis of a lower drop height, answered here in the roundtable:

Michael Bamberger, senior writer: The knee-drop looks ridiculous. It exists for a very limited purpose, to stop multiple drops on slopes. I think the professor has it right: a better rule would be to drop anywhere from knee to shoulder height. 

The USGA’s Thomas Pagel also explained to Rex Hoggard at that the new drop location, changed from a 1-inch above ground height in the first proposal to knee height, was part of a “package deal.”

“It’s not just a drop from knee-height, but now it’s a focus on the relief area. People say that dropping from shoulder-height is simple, and it is, but under the old rules, there were nine different times you had to re-drop. We wanted to eliminate all those complications,” Pagel said.

“In order to focus on that new relief area, we said, 'Let’s get the player closer to the ground, and if you drop it from knee-height, that ball is going to bounce a little less.'”

Ultimately, however, the act looks awkward. Any player wanting to drop from higher up whether for personal, political or pure inflexibility reasons should be allowed to without the potential for penalty (which is incurred after playing a shot if the drop was not from knee height).

Poll: New Drop Rule Absurd Or Something We'll Forget About In Six Weeks?

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On Monday’s Morning Drive we’ll be talking the new Rule of Golf drop procedure that has golfers letting go of the ball from knee height (8:30 am ET). I think the governing bodies need to revisit this one soon, spoken as someone who has no desire to stretch his hamstrings just to make a drop.

That’s because Bryson DeChambeau, a fit and flexible young lad, looked about as awkward as one can look in the first high-profile drop under the new rules. He called the procedure absurd after his round and most social media watchers agreed. Those with even less-limber hamstrings had to turn away.

Yet in assessing what he heard from players at the Sentry TOC, the USGA’s Thomas Pagel predicted to Golf World’s Dave Shedloski that concern over the awkward look and absurdity of a penalty for dropping at shoulder height (and subsequently playing a shot) will be forgotten in six weeks.

I think you know where I stand, but I’d love to hear what you think…the poll.

About that new knee-height drop... free polls

Bryson "Maximizes His Potential" With The Flagstick In, Just Like He Predicted He Would

Bryson DeChambeau’s naysayers can point to his brief sidesaddle putting method and little else in the imaginative arsenal of ideas he’s brought to the PGA Tour. And right on cue, he backed up his claims of seeing benefits to putting with the flagstick in the hole by doing so at Kapalua where the revised Rules of Golf were in effect.

One of the examples from an opening 69 at the Plantation Course to kick off the 2019 campaign:

After the round, DeChambeau was bullish on the idea even though he had done very little practice with flagstick’s in the cup.

From Dan Kilbridge’s Golfweek report on the overall impact, with quotes from playing partner Dustin Johnson.

“I feel like I maximized my potential on that,” DeChambeau said. “Especially on 16 today, where it’s kind of blowing downwind, five percent slope, straight downhill, you want that pin in to help. So that’s what I kind of did and utilized it to my advantage. So I felt like for the most part I needed the pin to be in and it went in and it was a very nice help.”

He was playing with Dustin Johnson, who probably spent less time studying the modern rules than DeChambeau spent picking his shirt this morning. Johnson told him before the round he was cool with the whole flagstick thing and to have DeChambeau’s caddie Tim Tucker just handle the flag all day to avoid confusion.

“It’s definitely weird. Well, not weird, it’s just different watching someone putt with the flag in,” Johnson said. “It actually worked out where it wasn’t a big deal. It didn’t slow us down or anything.”

Brandel Chamblee said after the first round display that players will be compelled to research the concept and will find that they make more putts doing this:

First New Rule Teaching Moment: If You're Leaving The Flagstick In, Make That Vital Decision Before The Shot, K?

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With the New Year arrives a refreshed Rules of Golf and thanks to Bubba Watson our first teaching moment!

The Tweet:

Doug Ferguson got the answer from the USGA on whether a penalty is in order.

In this case, the answer would appear to be yes. The decision to remove (or tend) the flag stick, or leave it in, must be made before the stroke.

It’s an example of what awaits for 2019, at least the early part of the year after a five-year project to simplify the Rules of Golf.

So there you have it: leave the flagstick in or don’t. No mid-shop changing your mind!

Video: Players Starting To Ponder The Impact Of Golf's New Rules

Interesting to see we are finally getting some reactions to the upcoming new Rules of Golf as they near a January 1 debut.

Not shockingly, a few (Steve Stricker) are wondering about players getting to massage their lines and what that’ll do to speed of play (the play it as it lies debates will come eventually).

From Golf Central:

2019 Rules Reminder: No Penalty For Double Hits

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We’ll be talking the 2019 Rules of Golf changes this week on Morning Drive and in reading up on some of the newbies, I was reminded that double hits like Tiger’s wipey shot at the 2018 Hero would not have been up for a 25 minute reply discussion.

From the USGA website:

2019 Rule: Under Rule 10.1a, if the player’s club accidentally hits the ball more than once during a single stroke:

  • There will be no penalty and the ball will be played as it lies.

"The rules, with some of the recent changes, are making the player less responsible for what he or she does. And that diminishes the game."

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As he’s prone to do, Michael Bamberger at tackles a question many of us were trying to formulate after Tiger’s wipey 2018 Hero Challenge shot resulted in no penalty.

The rule changes taking responsibility off of the player when HD catches something only visible to a modern camera have made great sense. But the introduction of intent questions and other elements have also possibly softened players in Bamberger’s mind. He cites several recent examples where fans felt uneasy about the conclusion and writes:

Any of those actions would have improved the game. Any of those statements would have been a way for a player to say, “The game is bigger than I.” Any of those statements would been an opportunity for the player to take control of the situation in the most honorable way. That’s golf.

Tiger's Wipey Shot Saved By The Replay Rules

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It wasn’t a double hit, but one really long strike of the ball that Tiger Woods says he couldn’t feel.

Here’s the full video posted by the PGA Tour:

Mark Russell’s explanation covers the rule changes that leave HD situations like this up to the player since the long wipe could not be seen with the naked eye. The Decision, for a few weeks longer anyway, is 34-3/10, Limitations on Use of Video Evidence.

From Dan Kilbridge’s Golfweek story:

“Well, Tiger was under a bush and we did determine that he did make a stroke at it. He didn’t scrape or spoon or push the ball. And when he did that, Tiger said that he did not think he hit the ball twice. Looking at it in the regular speed on a high-definition television, you couldn’t tell that at all, but when you slowed it down to ultraslow motion high-definition television, you could see where the club [sic] did stay on the clubface quite a bit of time and it looked like he might have hit it twice, but there’s no way he could tell that.

Kilbridge also posted this blow-by-blow of the situation. He has the time to determine at over 20 minutes, Rex Hoggard had it at 25. That’s kind of a long time for a rule theoretically cut-and-dried.

Maybe they were working off a streaming replay.

Bob Harig notes here that Woods faced a similar rules issue at the 2013 BMW where he was penalized prior to this change in the rules.

If nothing else, the Hero World Challenge round 2 episode is another reminder of positive changes to the HD replay rule and that the 18th hole at Albany is his silly-season kryptonite. It’s also debatable that he took a backswing.