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PGA Tour backstopping controversy returns as Kevin Na yells, "Hit my ball!" to playing partner

January 18, 2020

We may have entered a new decade, but backstopping is still a thing on the PGA Tour. Just ask Golf Twitter.

On Friday night, the tour tweeted video of a spectacular bunker shot by Russell Knox during the second round of the American Express. It didn't take long, though, for people to focus not on the shot itself, but what happened while Knox's golf ball rolled toward the hole.

Knox's ball barely misses hitting playing partner Kevin Na's unmarked ball inside tap-in range. And stoking the flames of a potential controversy is the fact Na can be heard saying, "Hit my ball!" in the clip. Watch and listen:

And here's a sampling of reactions:

Why was Na's ball not marked? Good question—especially considering the attention the debate over backstopping has gotten the past couple years after several videos made the rounds. In 2018, Jimmy Walker didn't do anything to make the issue go away when he admitted to purposely leaving his ball near the hole to help certain players.

And last year, the discussion spread to the LPGA when Amy Olson hit Ariya Jutanugarn's ball after waving her off from marking, later claiming she did it to speed up pace of play. At this point, you would think tour pros would go out of their way to mark their golf balls even if the odds of a playing partner hitting their ball are slim.

In any event, here's what Rule 15.3a says: "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)."

In other words, even if the golf balls don't make contact, both players can still be penalized.

Perhaps, Na isn't aware of the rule. Or, perhaps, he figured Knox could use all the help he could get trying to escape Pete Dye's infamous "San Andreas Fault" bunker on PGA West's Stadium Course. And, perhaps, Knox was so far below the green he had no clue Na's ball was there. Regardless, as long as players don't mark their golf balls around the hole, the public will continue to speculate as to why.