R&A and USGA promise to clarify new rule on caddies aligning players

The R&A and USGA have announced they will provide “necessary clarifications” to the new rule prohibiting caddies from helping players with alignment.

The two-shot penalties handed out to Li Haotong in Dubai and Denny McCarthy in Phoenix were subject to widespread criticism in the press and on social media from fans and players alike.

Many are of the opinion that the interpretation of the rule, which came into effect on January 1, needs to be clarified so that players can be absolutely certain when they are transgressing it.

On paper, the new rule states that caddies cannot stand directly behind their players “when a player begins taking a stance for the stroke and until the stroke is made”. A player can avoid a penalty by backing away and starting their shot process again, unless they are on the green.

In Li’s case, he was given a two-shot penalty in Dubai last week when he began to take his stance over a short birdie putt just before his caddie moved to one side.

Over on the PGA Tour last week, McCarthy was also hit with a two-shot deduction after his caddie was seen standing behind him as he went through his practice swings.

His punishment was rescinded a day later after consultations with the games governing bodies, however, after it was decided he had taken a stance only for his practice routine rather than the actual shot.

Following all this drama, the R&A and USGA released a joint-statement announcing that the description of the rule will be altered and made clearer for officials to determine when to impose a penalty.

The statement read: “Following an ongoing dialogue with players and in co-operation with the PGA TOUR rules team, The R&A and the USGA revisited the penalty assessed to Denny McCarthy during round two of the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

“After an additional review of available video, 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 R&A and the USGA recognise that 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.”