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British Open 2023: Why the latest Rory McIlroy rules controversy is nonsense

July 21, 2023
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Warren Little

HOYLAKE, England — It’s not a major championship in 2023 until a rules controversy surfaces.

In the waning hours of Round 1 of the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool, Rory McIlroy’s third shot at the par-5 18th failed to escape a greenside bunker, a byproduct of an odd raking style that left the Open field furious (and that the R&A had to change for Friday). However, McIlroy hit a brilliant shot for his fourth and was able to save par, turning in a level-par 71.

But following McIlroy’s round a Twitter sleuth asserted that McIlroy’s fourth shot violated the Rules of Golf, believing that McIlroy’s caddie, Harry Diamond, was standing behind McIlroy as he took his stance, a tweet that soon went viral:

For clarification Rule 10.2 regards “Advice and other help” with the purpose of the rule being, “A fundamental challenge for the player is deciding the strategy and tactics for their play. So there are limits to the advice and other help the player may get during a round.” Where this comes into play with McIlroy and Diamond is on the restricted area for a caddie before the player makes a stroke: When a player begins taking a stance for the stroke (which means they have at least one foot in position for that stance) and until the stroke is made, there are limitations relating to when and why a player’s caddie may deliberately stand on or close to an extension of the line of play behind the ball (that is, the “restricted area”) as follows:

Aiming. The caddie must not stand in the restricted area to help the player with aiming. This help includes when the caddie moves away without saying anything but, by doing so, is giving a signal to the player that they are correctly aimed at the intended target. But there is no penalty if the player backs away before making the stroke and the caddie moves away from the restricted area before the player again begins to take a stance for the stroke.

Judging by the video, a case could be made that Diamond is in the restricted area. However, the rule also states, “There is no penalty if the caddie was inadvertently standing in the restricted area.” Given Diamond had to check if McIlroy needed the club to be cleaned after the third shot or simply wanted to check the new lie, and that Diamond immediately retreats when McIlroy begins taking a stance, no penalty was incurred. The "deliberate" threshold doesn't seem to have been crossed, but rather the "inadverent" portion of the rule.

In short, don’t believe everthing you see on Twitter.

The rule is rarely enforced, although in 2019 it came up twice in back-to-back weeks, first at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic—where Haotong LI was penalized two shots because his caddie was on a direct line behind the ball when he began to take his stance on the 18th green, dropping Li from third to 12th in the tournament—and at the WM Phoenix Open, where Denny McCarthy received a two-shot penalty for the same circumstance, only for rules officials to rescind the penalty upon further review.

Is it the British Open or the Open Championship? The name of the final men’s major of the golf season is a subject of continued discussion. The event’s official name, as explained in this op-ed by former R&A chairman Ian Pattinson, is the Open Championship. But since many United States golf fans continue to refer to it as the British Open, and search news around the event accordingly, Golf Digest continues to utilize both names in its coverage.