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Tuesday, March 5, 2019

"Thomas Pagel, I Have a Thought..."

This is not a rant. Everybody agrees that caddies shouldn't physically line up their players before a shot. The problem is that the language of Rule 10.2b(4) is too vague for everyone to agree on when the rule has been broken.

The USGA made their first attempt at clarifying the rule a few weeks back at the Phoenix Open when Denny McCarthy was penalized for what few people saw as a violation. The penalty was rescinded and the language changed slightly.

Before that change, you could have argued that if a player lined up to test his aim, then ran around the ball three times before taking his stance and hitting the ball, he was still in violation of the rule.

But the new language, "begins taking a stance for the stroke," is still far too vague to be properly enforced. When has a player begun taking a stance? Is it when the player begins his or her pre-shot routine -- that's their preparation to make the shot, after all -- or is it when the player actually sets their feet and begins their swing?

For example, in the Adam Schenk penalty this past week at Honda I can see how you might argue both ways. Adam didn't move away from the ball after his caddie moved away, so you can argue that he had already taken his stance. But others could argue that Adam didn't really start taking his stance until he began working his feet into the sand.

Does "begins taking a stance" mean that you are getting ready to swing the club or merely that your feet are in the same place they will be when you ARE ready to swing the club? Or even that they are just in the same place they were before your caddie moved away, regardless of whether you would be standing in that same position to actually hit the ball or not?

The language in Rule 10.2b(4) doesn't define the phrase one way or the other. In fact, the clarification to the rule doesn't either. The clarification states that:
"The player begins to take the stance for the stroke that is actually made when he or she has at least one foot in position for that stance."
But as I said earlier, one could argue that Adam didn't really start taking his stance until he began working his feet into the sand, since he moved both feet from their original positions in order to work them into the sand.

As for "backing away from the stance" (which is the wording used in Rule 10.2b(4)), how much movement is required to adequately fulfill this requirement? Is it 36 inches, or 12 inches or perhaps just a couple? How far is far enough? How close is too close?

That's one source of confusion, this assumption that everyone defines terms and concepts in the same way. Nations go to war for less!

But more than that, how do you determine 'intent'? That seems to be the main point of contention in the Schenk ruling. Because of where the ball was and the amount of noise, Adam's caddie had to be where he was in order to discuss the shot. It seems pretty clear that his caddie had no idea that Adam was ready to play and was therefore not "deliberately" standing in Adam's line. There was certainly no intent to line him up. By that definition, there should have been no penalty.

In any case, the penalty may have cost Adam Schenk a chance to win.

So how can we clear up these inconsistencies and misunderstandings? How do we make the rule clear enough that the questions and disagreements disappear?

What Makes a Good Rule?

In a good rule, a game concept is clearly defined in an easy-to-observe way. Let's use 'out-of-bounds' as an example.

Out-of-bounds is a concept. It means the ball has left the field of play and the player has incurred a penalty. Knowing for sure whether a ball is out-of-bounds or not is vital to knowing whether a penalty has been incurred or not.

In this case, the concept 'out-of-bounds' is clearly defined by a boundary line marked off with physical white stakes. The line is easily observed by anyone -- on one side of the stakes, the ball is in bounds; on the other, it isn't. And the ball must be COMPLETELY out-of-bounds; if the ball is on the line, then it's in-bounds.

In this case, it's easy to determine whether there's a penalty or not. Anybody can see the line and recognize whether the ball is 'in' or 'out.' There is no gray area.

Not so much with Rule 10.2b(4). Who determines when the player "begins taking a stance for the stroke"? The rule, as written, doesn't give us any clear physical indicator that can be seen. Nor does it give us a clear physical indicator of when a caddie is "deliberately" on the line of play.

Everybody seems to agree with the purpose of the rule. What I'm suggesting is that the rule itself doesn't acknowledge that purpose. If it did, the clear physical indicators necessary to avoid penalty would be obvious.

So What Is the Purpose of This Rule?

In a weird way, for all the controversy regarding stances, Rule 10.2b(4) isn't really about when players take their stances at all. It's about WHY they take them. It's about caddies lining up a player's shot instead of the player lining up the shot. The stance is a secondary consideration because Rule 10.2b(1) says, in part, that:
"A player may have his or her line of play pointed out by having his or her caddie or any other person stand on or close to the player’s line of play to show where it is, but that person must move away before the stroke is made."
Presumably, the player is allowed to 'test' how this aim looks to him by taking a stance and practice strokes. So that's not a problem and Rule 10.2b(4) isn't intended to address it.

Since the caddie is already allowed to help the player line up a shot but is forbidden to stand "on or close to the player's line of play" at the moment when the stroke is made, the real problem is the caddie orienting the player's body at the last possible moment before the shot is made.

In other words, Rule 10.2b(4) is intended to address a specific abuse of 10.2b(1) -- a caddie may help a player choose a line of play but may NOT take an action to actually align the player on that line.

Or, to put it another way, the caddie can't help the player aim his or her stance.

It's a fine line between taking a stance based on your own aim and taking one based on your caddie's aim. That's why Rule 10.2b(4) is so controversial -- it's nearly impossible to enforce as written. Rule 10.2b(1) allows your caddie to help you pick a line, but (pardon the pun) when has your caddie crossed the line? Who determines "intent" and who wins out when the player/caddie team and the officials disagree?

What we need is the equivalent of out-of-bounds stakes. We need a clear physical indicator that the player is aligning his own stance, and not the caddie.

Rule 10.2b(1) already requires one clear physical indicator -- namely, that the caddie to move off the line before the player makes a stroke. However, this is insufficient to prove that the player is choosing his own line, and that's why we have to start tinkering with the player's stance. Having the player change his stance after the caddie moves is the only way we can be sure the player is doing the aiming.

But this whole "begins taking a stance for the stroke" rhetoric is useless. When a player begins taking their stance is irrelevant. What matters is that the player takes his or her stance after the caddie has moved, not before. 

What we need is a clear physical indicator that the player's stance is his own, not one aimed by the caddie... and when the player 'began' to take that stance is irrelevant as long as we can see that the player's stance is not the result of the caddie standing on his line to align his shot.

And it needs to be something the player can do and that, by doing it, the player -- and anyone watching, for that matter -- can KNOW, without doubt, that he hasn't violated Rule 10.2b(4).

My Suggestion for a Clear Physical Indicator

As I said, Rule 10.2b(1) already requires the caddie to move off the line before the player makes the stroke. We just need a clear physical indicator that shows the player's stance wasn't set by the caddie.

I suggest that the player take three steps back from the line -- not along the line, but backing away from the line. Here's a diagram to show what I have in mind.

Diagram for an easy-to-understand rule

The player takes three steps away from the aimline. (Obviously, they can start with either foot. And the third step doesn't have to stop even with the second step, but it needs to go at least that far away from the aimline.) At this point, the player has clearly stepped away from the aimline, and the three steps are easily viewed by fellow players, fans around the green and on any video footage the officials look at.

Why three steps and not just two? Because if you just took two steps, you could simply rock back-and-forth on the first foot and basically take your original stance again. With three steps, both feet will have moved away.

Players say they are currently terrified that they will accidentally break Rule 10.2b(4). With this clear physical indicator, that is no longer a problem.

And if a player takes these steps and his caddie hasn't moved yet, he just stands still and asks his caddie to move. It doesn't matter who moves first; as long as both player and caddie have stepped away from the line, the rule isn't broken. It doesn't even matter whether the player has 'begun to take a stance' or not, whatever that means.

Rule 10.2b(4) only requires that both player and caddie are not simultaneously engaged in any act that could be construed as the caddie aligning his player's stance. If both of them are away from the aimline at the same time, and then the player moves back in to make his shot, then Rule 10.2b(4) has not been breached.

One final thought: I realize that many of you will say that the current phrasing of the rule requires exactly what I described in the last paragraph... but you'd be wrong. Why? Because Rule 10.2b(4), as currently written, does not define clearly when the player has "backed away" enough to satisfy the rule, any more than it defines how much foot movement is necessary to say you changed your stance. (I mentioned that earlier when discussing digging your feet into the sand.)

Best of all, we eliminate 'intent' or 'deliberately' or any other subjective judgment from the rule. It's all right there in front of us. All the player has to do is take three very visible steps back from the line and stay there until his or her caddie has moved off the line, then they can start their routine or whatever without breaking the rule. And there will be no question that they did it properly because those three steps are easy to see.

So, Thomas Pagel, if you're listening, that's my thought on Rule 10.2b(4). I realize the USGA and R&A may want to use something different, and that's okay as long as you use clear physical indicators that we can clearly see. But I think this might be the clearest way to do it and, when you're talking about the Rules, 'clear' is definitely the way to go.

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