WToday the USGA and R&A issued a “clarification” on 10.2b(4) – the “caddies cannot stand behind the player when the player begins taking his stance” rule. The PDF can be found here: http://www.usga.org/content/dam/usga/pdf/2019/rules/Clarifications%20of%20the%20Application%20of%20Rule%2010.2b(4)%20-%20February%206%202019%20(2).pdf.

Two days ago, we shared our thoughts here:

Our View(s) on Rule 10.2b(4)

This clarification from the USGA/R&A comes in two parts.

The second part clarifies something that is more of a clarification to the fans, as the definition of “deliberate” has been clear to rules geeks and officials for years. It means to excuse a caddie who is not paying attention and just so happens to be on an extension of the line of play when the player was either making a stroke (pre-2019) or was beginning to take her stance (2019 onward). In other words, a caddie getting a banana out of the bag who just so happened to be on the extension of the line of play was not penalized, and will not be in the future, either. Many casual fans thought that “deliberately” meant that the caddie was lining the player up, but the Rule doesn’t specify that a caddie can’t say “a little to the left” — it specifies only that a caddie can’t stand in an area during a period of time.

The first clarification is not so much a clarification as it is a change or a reversal. While previously it was well understood that a player could not “back out” of a situation off the putting green, now, magically, they can. In other words, what previously required an exception — only for the putting green — now occurs everywhere. This means that they’ve completely changed this rule from “players can’t back out except on the putting green” to “players can back out anywhere.”

In my opinion, this raises more questions than it resolves. Chief among those: when has a player successfully “backed out” of a stance? Can they have the caddie line them up from an extension of their line of play and then:

  • Lift up one foot and then the other, so long as the club is not near the ball?
  • Back out six inches and then step forward again?
  • Back out and within two seconds step back in to the footprints their “good” stance fade?
  • Note a differently colored clump of grass, a small leaf, a twig, etc. of their “good” stance and set their feet in the same position after stepping out of their stance?

The USGA/R&A are toying with the language by saying that you’ve not taken “a stance” if you’re not going to make “the stroke.” I’d have preferred if the Rule stayed the same, with the same exception, but simply clarified when a player has “begun” to take a stance. As previously noted, the definition of “begins to take her stance” seemed to be that the club or the ball was nearly in the final position. I’d have preferred if the USGA/R&A had simply clarified that and otherwise kept the rule the same.

Instead of clarifying, they’ve modified.

And worse yet… we still don’t know when a player has “begun to take his stance.”

How would this situation be ruled:

  1. A player takes a stance near the ball. His caddie is on or near an extension of the line of play.
  2. He takes some practice swings inside the ball.
  3. The caddie moves out of the way.
  4. The player shuffles his feet forward an inch or two and hits the ball.

This is almost essentially what Denny McCarthy did (except that he fully backed out of his stance and walked a few feet away). Had he shuffled his feet forward an inch or two… would he still be penalized?

The one thing I think the USGA/R&A should have clarified – when a player has begun taking his stance – they didn’t even address. No pun intended.

My thoughts in four tweets say these same things, essentially:

What do you think? Leave us a comment.

P.S. I think this change is going to make the Tour players happy, but the opinions of Tour players are one of the things ruling bodies should consider least when making Rules.