RulesJanuary 23, 2019

LPGA players confront the biggest change to the Rules of Golf that nobody is talking about

lydia ko caddie line up Meijer LPGA Classic - Round Three
Stacy RevereGRAND RAPIDS, MI - JUNE 16: Lydia Ko of New Zealand speaks with her caddie on the first hole during the third round of the Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give at Blythefield Country Club on June 16, 2018 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — There has been no shortage of talk about the various changes to the Rules of Golf that went into effect for 2019, much of it revolving around players being allowed to leave the flagstick in while putting and the new requirement to drop balls from knee height. Yet according to one former World No. 1, something has been missing from the discussion.

“The no lining up,” says the LPGA’s Stacy Lewis, “is the greatest change in all the rules.”

Lewis is referring to the new rule 10.2(b)4 that prohibits caddies from standing behind a golfer once the player has begun to address their ball in preparation of taking a stroke.

The practice of caddies helping align players before hitting a shot had been common in women’s pro golf for several years, drawing the ire of critics who felt it was a step too far in the assistance that players should be able to receive. Not to mention, the pace of play issues that it often created.

The new rule specifies that from the time a player “begins to take a stance for the stroke” until the stroke is made, a caddie “must not deliberately stand on or close to an extension of the line of play behind the ball for any reason.”

The rule goes on to explain that the reasoning behind the rules change is that being able to align yourself is a “fundamental skill of the game,” and as such, the player needs to be solely responsible for it.

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Playing the first LPGA event under the new Rules last weekend at the Diamond Ranch Tournament of Champions, other golfers joined Lewis in applauding the change.

“I don’t really have my caddie line me up,” said Lexi Thompson. “Only when I’m really struggling, I’ll ask. We're all professional athletes. I don’t think we really need that. Take your time, pick out your line. I think we can line ourselves up.”

Arguably the most notable player impacted by the change in the rule is Lydia Ko, a 15-time winner and former World No. 1. Well aware that the change was coming, Ko had been preparing in recent weeks for the new reality she would be facing.

“I've had my caddie pretty much line me up for pretty much most of my career. So this off-season, I’ve been practicing trying to line myself up,” Ko said. “It’s something that you've just got to get used to. As with anything, it just takes time. Now I feel fine lining myself up when I’m on the range.”

Ko seemed to adjust well to the new style of play, starting the final round at the Four Seasons Golf & Sports Club in a tie for the lead before shooting a closing 77 to finish in eighth place, seven shots back of winner Eun-Hee Ji.

Cristie Kerr believes it's possible to adjust and still perform at a high level.

“I think it’s a good thing, nobody getting lined up anymore,” Kerr said. “I’ve done it both ways. For 10 years, I got lined up, and then I got to No. 1 player in the world by not getting lined up. So I think aiming or the subtleties of aiming offline, that’s part of the game.”

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