If you thought the “backstopping” controversy was over, think again. While things like golf’s new rules, temper tantrums in bunkers, and underpaid local caddies have dominated the headlines of late, the issue remains on the PGA Tour. And now arguably the most egregious example of it has occurred on the LPGA Tour.
A big thanks to Duncan French for capturing the following video from the Honda LPGA Thailand. Although, if backstopping really bothers you, then you might not want to watch what happened between World No. 1 Ariya Jutanugarn and Amy Olson on the 18th hole during the second round.
Faced with similar-length pitches for their third shots on the closing par 5, Jutanugarn plays first and hits a beautiful shot to about two feet. After grabbing her putter from her caddie, she starts to walk toward the green, presumably to mark her ball, while motioning to Olson. But Jutanugarn stops dead in her tracks and backs up, having either been told by Olson not to mark her ball or deciding not to because Olson was about to play her shot. Either way, it’s a player’s option—and responsibility—to mark their ball, provided it doesn’t cause an undue delay in play.
According to Rule 15.3a, “If you reasonably believe that a ball on the putting green might help anyone’s play (such as by serving as a possible backstop near the hole), you may mark and lift the ball if it is your own, or if the ball belongs to another player, require the other player to mark and lift the ball.”
The rule also states, “If you and another player agree to leave a ball in place to help one of you, and that player then makes a stroke with the helping ball left in place, each player who made the agreement gets the general penalty (two penalty strokes).”
Back to what happened on Friday. Olson played her more difficult shot next from a downhill lie in the rough and as you probably guessed, her golf ball caromed off Jutanugarn’s and settled a couple feet from the flag. But her reaction made the situation look even worse. Olson put her hands together and bowed to Jutanugarn before the two shared a chuckle and a fist-bump as they walked onto the green. Jutanugarn got to move her ball back to where the ricochet occurred and both made birdies to finish their rounds.
Here’s the series of tweets that brought the sketchy situation to light:
It’s impossible to know either players’ motivations for their actions, but it looks bad. It’s possible Olson playing her shot quickly prompted Jutanugarn from marking her ball. It’s also possible she played her shot quickly for that very reason or that she made some sort of gesture to Jutanugarn to leave her ball there.
Again, it’s impossible to know for sure if this was purposeful cheating by either, but what we know is Olson gained an advantage by having Jutanugarn’s golf ball there. An advantage that other players in her same position wouldn’t have. And in a sport where every shot over four days has a dollar amount, that isn’t right or fair.