UPDATE: Olson says she was trying to help with pace of play, not gain advantage as many question latest backstopping incident on the LPGA
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)."
Last year, Jimmy Walker, obviously oblivious to this rule admitted to purposely leaving his golf ball on the green to help certain players. That stoked the flames on an issue that was previously viewed by most as either a conspiracy theory or a non-issue.
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. Olson is in a tie for fifth place through 36 holes, two shots behind leader Jenny Shin. Jutanugarn is in a tie for 19th place.
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 the incident has at least raised some eyebrows on social media. Whatever intentions were, 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 receive. And in a sport where every shot over four days has a dollar amount, that isn't right or fair.
UPDATE: Contacted by Golfweek via text, Olson insisted there was no intent to gain any advantage by having Jutanugarn not mark her ball, but rather that she was trying to help with pace of play after the third member of their group, Michelle Wie, had been waiting to speak with a rules official. According to multiple reports, LPGA officials reached out to both Olson and Jutanugarn and told them there would be no penalties over the matter.
Here’s what Olson told Golfweek’s Beth Ann Nichols: “We had waited on 18th tee, for 10 minutes in 18th fairway and Michelle (Wie) was waiting for a ruling. To help pace of play, Ariya and I went before Michelle even though she was out. Ariya’s ball was not in my intended line and to help move things along, I told her it was fine. I had never even heard of the back-stopping issue as I don’t really watch PGA golf that much and it hasn’t been an issue on the LPGA. My intention was to help pace of play. Obviously with everything that has gone down I think we all [especially me] will be more conscious of it and I will have EVERYONE mark anything remotely close to the hole now.”