The 2019 golf season hasn’t even begun for most in the United States, but already it’s been a controversial campaign.
From the unveiling of the new, modernized Rules of Golf, to Matt Kuchar’s caddie dilemma, the Saudi International in general, and Sergio Garcia’s disqualification in particular, the slow play discussion that erupted following J.B. Holmes’ victory at Riviera and Bryson DeChambeau’s recent anger issues, it’s been a wild two months in the world of golf.
Now, the LPGA Tour has gotten in on the act with their first big controversy of the year. During the second round of the Honda LPGA Thailand, American Amy Olson and Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn became embroiled in a backstopping controversy.
Backstopping, you’ll recall, is when one player leaves their ball unmarked on the green to the aid or benefit of their playing partner. While the issue seems to come and go in the news cycle with every instance, the Olson-Jutanuagarn example has particularly fired up detractors of the practice.
Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee was strong-minded in his opposition.
“Anyone who is one shot back of Amy at the end of this event, assuming she doesn’t get a penalty, has every right to be furious, and is certainly justified in measuring a strong protest,” Chamblee said. “This is exactly why we have spoken so adamantly against the idea of backstopping. I know that when I played the Tour, if I had a ball up next to the hole, you would go, ‘I’m going to mark that.’
“It’s protecting the field. You do not want to give an advantage to your playing partners.”
Golfweek senior writer Geoff Shackelford has long been one of backstopping’s biggest detractors, and this latest example sent him and others over the edge on social media, labeling the series of events “cheating.”
— Geoff Shackelford (@GeoffShac) February 22, 2019
“We’ve got collusion, laughing after the balls collide and fist bumping! Yay cheating!” he tweeted. “Should be an easy DQ call for (Olson and Jutanugarn).”
Instead, the LPGA Tour did not disqualify either party, nor did they levy a penalty stroke.
“After speaking with Amy Olson and Ariya Jutanugarn, the LPGA rules committee determined that there was no breach of Rule 15.3a,” the LPGA said in a statement, according to GolfChannel.com. “There was no agreement by either player to leave Jutanugarn’s ball in place to help Olson’s next stroke. An LPGA Rules Official was approaching the 18th green at the time and agreed that no breach had occurred.
“Rule 15.3a clearly states that for a breach to occur, that two or more players must agree to leave a ball in place to help any player on her next stroke. This was not the case between Olson and Jutanugarn.”
Both players spoke before beginning their third rounds on Saturday, with both mentioning pace of play as a contributing factor.
Amy Olson was interviewed prior to the start of the third round of the Honda LPGA Thailand to talk about what transpired on 18 during yesterday’s second round. pic.twitter.com/Wk6Cd5i03o
— LPGA (@LPGA) February 23, 2019
“(It’s) all about context,” Olson said. “Ariya and I went before Michelle (Wie) 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 (not to mark).
“I had never even heard of the backstopping issue, as I don’t really watch PGA Tour golf that much, and it hasn’t really been an issue on the LPGA. 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.”
.@Jutanugarn on whether there was backstopping: “One thing we know is, we not cheating . . . We not talk. We not agree with that . . . It’s nothing, because we been waiting all day.”
— Randall Mell (@RandallMellGC) February 23, 2019
“One thing we know is, we not cheating,” Jutanugarn told GolfChannel.com’s Randall Mell. “We not talk. We not agree with that. It’s nothing, because we been waiting all day.”
Olson and Jutanugarn sit in 12th and T13th, respectively after three rounds in Thailand.