Stop it. Just cut it out.
You probably know some youngsters who need to hear that more often than they do. But this particular admonition – and I wish you could hear me say it aloud to get the full effect – is for another group: The Outrage Squad, the Pot-Stirrers, those grimacing social media junkies who are constantly on the prowl for the next “worst thing ever” so they can insinuate, accuse and broil their intended targets over a searing flame.
Sergio García, Matt Kuchar, J.B. Holmes (who, while painfully slow on the golf course, is a fine man), anyone who played golf on the Saudis’ sandy soil: They’ve all been grist for the rage mill. People who have never met any of them, who don’t know their backgrounds, their families, their work ethic; people who know nothing about their charitable giving, their core beliefs, their values outside of golf; people who have never heard them talk about anything deeper than the 8-iron they hit on 16 and who have never seen them interact with anyone away from a golf course, those people tell us that we should be indignant, dismayed, and up in arms about this or that controversy.
The latest one might be the most outrageous. On Friday afternoon, Amy Olson and Ariya Jutanugarn played together in the second round of the Honda LPGA Thailand. Both players hit their second shots close to the par-5 18th green, leaving them relatively short pitches. Jutanugarn played first and pitched to within a couple of feet.
Then Olson, who was in the rough beside the grandstands, hit her third shot seconds later, before Jutanugarn could get to the green. Coming out of the high stuff, Olson’s ball hit the ground low – and hot – and appeared to be on the way to the other side of the green. But her ball hit Jutanugarn’s and stopped within 3 feet. Olson made birdie and entered the weekend three shots out of the lead.
Within a couple of hours, after Olson and Jutanugarn had left the course and gone back to their hotel rooms (Thailand is 12 hours ahead of the American East Coast), a video clip burned its way through the internet accompanied by accusations of “backstopping.”
Backstopping is when a player hits a ball behind the hole on or near the through-line of his or her fellow competitor. If the player leaves that ball in place without marking it, the other player could, conceivably use the ball as a potential backstop if he or she missed the hole.
The integrity of the game is still intact, as is the reputation of one of the finest women who plays it.
The Rules of Golf address this. Rule 15.3 reads: “If two or more players agree to leave a ball in place on the putting green to help any player, and the stroke is made with the helping ball left in place, each player who made the agreement gets two penalty strokes. A breach of Rule 15.3a does not depend on whether the players know that such an agreement is not allowed.
“For example, in stroke play, before playing from just off the putting green, a player asks another player to leave his or her ball that is near the hole, in order to use it as a backstop. Without knowing this is not allowed, the other player agrees to leave his or her ball by the hole to help the other player. Once the stroke is made with the ball in place, both players get the penalty under Rule 15.3a.
“The same outcome would apply if the player whose ball was near the hole offered to leave the ball in play to help the other player, and the other player accepted the offer and then played.”
So, two players can’t agree to give one an advantage by leaving a ball in place. And you can’t ask a player to leave a ball in place if your intent is to use that ball as a backstop to gain an advantage.
As with a lot in the Rules of Golf, the intent of the player is key here as is the “reasonable person” standard. If a fellow player’s ball is still on the green, you don’t think it’s near your through-line and you play your stroke because you’re a fast player or your group is behind, as long as you don’t intend to gain an advantage, and a reasonable person could draw the same conclusion, you haven’t broken the letter or spirit of this rule.
You certainly have not, as some in the mob have suggested, bastardized the integrity of the game.
In this case, Olson’s ball was not only hit too hard, it was off line. Jutanugarn’s ball was well right of Olson’s intended line. The fact that the balls collided was pure happenstance. That was why they laughed and fist-bumped on the edge of the green. Wow, what a lucky break.
Neither of those players would ever attempt to game the rules. Olson would cut off her right arm before she would intentionally do something to call her integrity into question. This is one of the most upstanding people in all of sports, a woman who bakes cookies for her husband’s football players (Grant Olson is the linebackers coach at North Dakota State University, his and Amy’s alma mater), a person who raises money to dig freshwater wells for African villages and who adds people from all over the world to prayer chains. To accuse her of cheating is beyond irresponsible.
She’s a naturally fast player. If anyone now criticizing Olson had ever followed her for a hole or two, they would know that her natural rhythm is to hit when it’s her turn. No dallying. Hitting her pitch shot on 18 quickly was not out of the ordinary. In fact, doing anything else would have been out of character.
I reached Olson in the middle of the night on Friday in Thailand. She said, “All I can say is that (Ariya’s) ball was not in my intended line and after waiting on the tee at 18, then waiting 10 minutes in the fairway for the group in front of us to finish, waiting for Michelle (Wie) to get a ruling on the green, my main thought was pace of play. In hindsight, I should have waited for (Ariya) to mark her ball. I’ll be more conscious of that in the future.”
No harm, no foul. The integrity of the game is still intact, as is the reputation of one of the finest women who plays it.
The same can’t be said for those who rush to judgment. For them, I would simply say: When everything becomes an outrage, the only thing outrageous is you.
Amy Olson of United States, smiling during the second round of the Honda LPGA Thailand, was ruled by the LPGA to not have violated Rule 15.3a when her ball hit Ariya Jutanugarn’s late in the round. Photo: Thananuwat Srirasant, Getty Images
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