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Is giving advice the verbal equivalent of backstopping?

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I have a quick take for you: giving advice is the verbal equivalent of backstopping. The idea came out of a back-and-forth with a great golf mind (@scramblergolf on Twitter), but the idea coalesced in my head.

Here’s my proof:

  • Caddies and players make no effort to impede competitors from looking at the bag, to determine what club their own golfer played (usually on a par three hole)
  • Caddies and players make no effort to slow down play, enough to let a golfer approach the green and mark a golf ball that might prove to be a backstop.

That’s it. Pretty simple, huh? Both are poorly-kept (if at all) secrets that announcers, ironically, view in different ways. On-course reporters and tower heads depend on caddies to flash them a number of fingers, indicating the number of club that was played. Do these on-air mouths think for one second that they are the only ones who see the signal? And yet, self-righteously, those same announcers leap to decry the current practice of backstopping.

I’ve news for you, talking heads: these are the same broken rule, committed in different manners.

The professional tours allow each to happen with tacit approval. Why? It’s hard to penalize, even harder than determining if the neo-long putters are anchored or not (which is another stupid rule—but don’t get me off on a tangent.)

The tours hate conflict. Remember when Miguel Angel Jimenez and Keegan Bradley almost duked it out, over Bradley’s drop and caddie interference? Sawgrass doesn’t want NASCAR, MMA, or even the NFL. Kill’em with decorum, they might as well print, instead of Live Under Par.

Well, ignore for a moment Christina Kim’s true motives (which none of us knows) for calling penalties on competitors at Q-School.

Instead, look at the reaction of the golf community.

Kim is vilified for bringing the matter to Twitter before it went to the media. Too bad, media. Sometimes we get scooped. Guess what this calumny does? It takes our attention away from the infraction, and moves it to the interpersonal relationships. Those are fodder for gossip rags, but not for golf fans and members of the business community. The only thing that matters is that golfers from Dustin Johnson to Kendall Dye, have admitted that they don’t always know the rules. Not knowing the rules, unless you are a paladin, encourages one to moan about being wronged by a draconian code.

Spare me. TV golf announcers, stop asking for a handout. Professional golfers, stop backstopping. Professional caddies, stop giving out club information.

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Ronald Montesano writes for GolfWRX.com from western New York. He dabbles in coaching golf and teaching Spanish, in addition to scribbling columns on all aspects of golf, from apparel to architecture, from equipment to travel. Follow Ronald on Twitter at @buffalogolfer.

34 Comments

34 Comments

  1. JCGolf

    Nov 9, 2019 at 10:40 am

    This article is dumb. Proudly announcing to the world that you hit a 9 iron isn’t against the rule. My partner asking me which club i hit is against the rules. There’s a difference.

  2. Dirty Dog Pervert

    Nov 9, 2019 at 8:18 am

    Nice cannons on that woman. I like em chunky.

  3. Blackbart65

    Nov 8, 2019 at 10:47 am

    In response to the headline question, no, giving advice is worse, because it is clearly illegal, based on the rules of golf.

  4. Tom

    Nov 8, 2019 at 9:52 am

    Calling that “advice” is a bit of a stretch. “I hit an 8-iron” is not the same thing as “I think you should hit an 8-iron”. It’s the same as making an observation about the course or course conditions – which is allowed under the rule, as they are not considered advice.

  5. ChipNRun

    Nov 7, 2019 at 7:22 pm

    From the story:
    ____________________
    * Caddies and players make no effort to slow down play, enough to let a golfer approach the green and mark a golf ball that might prove to be a backstop.
    _______________

    These are the same caddies and players who will get put “on the clock” if they drop more than a hole behind the group ahead. So, tour players should play fast… but not too fast?

    And, as WEBSTER noted, the iron one hits doesn’t tell us much… trap draw, three-quarters swing has a big impact on distance.

    Must have been a “slow news day” in R-land.

  6. Webster

    Nov 7, 2019 at 6:17 pm

    Why does it even matter really? Pro A and Pro B are most likely playing different irons and even if they did they most likely don’t hit them the same distance. And even then player B has to ascertain how player A chose to hit the shot; full, take a hair off, a punch, trap draw, etc. And after all that they then have to try and come up with how that relates to their own clubs/swing.

  7. james

    Nov 7, 2019 at 5:33 pm

    One is against the rules and one is not…..I see no similarity.

  8. Simple

    Nov 7, 2019 at 5:30 pm

    I might have a different approach here, but I don’t understand why it’s a big deal. You can shove the iron sole into a camera, show that it’s a 6-iron, show everyone, but as long as you don’t verbally say “six”, you’re within the rules.

    It’s rubbish. It should be DISCOURAGED to ask your opponent what they played. It should be against the Rules to actively attempt to ascertain information that has not been easily shared. But if you say “whadya hit?” and you say “8”, that should not be a breech. If you say “whadya hit” and you shrug, that’s that. It’s etiquette that that point.

  9. JAMES

    Nov 7, 2019 at 4:48 pm

    If I’m a pro caddie and I’m hand signaling the tower what club my guy/gal is hitting on a par 3 I’m flashing the tower 2 clubs less. If the opponent is stupid enough to rely on this info then he/she can suffer the surprise when they hit their shot into the water in front of the green.

  10. JThunder

    Nov 7, 2019 at 4:18 pm

    We’re in a era where many people care more about their “social media presence” than they do about rules, objectivity and even consequences. This is true from the top office in the land on down. The “court of public opinion” has become the kangaroo court of the anonymous internet. This does not serve us as a society or race.

    Unfortunately, those who could curb this downward spiral are equally addicted to the illusion of social media, so will likely say or do nothing except stoke the virtual flames. Ultimately a waste of time for all involved. (And yes, this includes comments sections on articles)

  11. Dan

    Nov 7, 2019 at 4:12 pm

    This is an unenforceable rule because caddies are always flashing fingers to on-course staff and nearby players. Otherwise we (tv viewers) cannot know which club is being used. On same day two got penalties, there were other 70 violators in the field who did not get a penalty for doing the same thing.

  12. Dale

    Nov 7, 2019 at 3:53 pm

    Which club being used is not a secret at any mean. Therefore, no one really cared about enforcing the rule in this context. Sure, the players and caddies know the rule. That’s why they use gestures. But, it was such a moot point that no one cared including the rule officials. Otherwise every player whose caddy ever flashed fingers to on-course staff should be disqualified!

    In NY, there is an old law that no one cared about. So, even today there is actually a law that makes it illegal to have Anal Sex. That’s right. There is an actual legislature about it. Is it being enforced? Of course not. Does breaking that rule make you a criminal?

    Kim protected nothing. Only thing she did was to report the fellow players and cost them Tour card and gained a few days of attention for herself in return, which she is clearly enjoying.

  13. chip75

    Nov 7, 2019 at 3:41 pm

    It’s not against the rules to look in another player’s bag, but it is against the rules to ask. It’s like the difference between asking a playing partner the yardage from a bunker and your ball, one is okay the other is against the rules.

    Surprised that any professional would not know the rule.

  14. larrybud

    Nov 7, 2019 at 1:35 pm

    Advice is much worse than backstopping. If players were so accurate that they could take advantage of backstopping, then they’d try to hit the hole instead of the other player’s ball.

    Advice helps immediately

    • Moosejaw McWilligher

      Nov 7, 2019 at 4:11 pm

      Moreover, a golf ball is much smaller than the hole. Backstopping is not desirable but it’d hard to see it as much more than chance.

  15. Dshepley

    Nov 7, 2019 at 11:50 am

    Who cares if they ask what club was hit? Maybe it will speed the game up if it is allowed. The information would only be useful if the player asking knew how far the other player hits their clubs, was it hit full, 3/4, solid strike….the information isn’t tremendously useful anyway given that the player still has to hit a shot.

    • Scrambler

      Nov 7, 2019 at 12:47 pm

      Agree completely. Knowing the club number is barely any more information than knowing the yardage (which is allowed to be shared). You also have loft variances between club manufacturers. There’s no significant advantage and there’s already many ways that sharing / obtaining the club is allowed (speaking out loud with your caddie, looking in competitor bag, reading signals to TV personnel).

      It’s not even close to backstopping, which has the very real possibility of affecting the result of a stroke (even helping a poor one). The only similarity is that both are technically rule violations with inconsistent non-enforcement.

      The former should be assessed whether it continues to be a meaningful rule (no real advantage / allowed methods of circumventing it), while the latter makes sense because there’s an advantage as a basis for the rule.

    • Kevin

      Nov 7, 2019 at 3:14 pm

      DShepley – I agree completely. Knowing the club number is barely any more information than knowing the yardage (which is allowed to be shared). You also have loft variances between club manufacturers. There’s no significant advantage and there’s already many ways that sharing / obtaining the club is allowed (speaking out loud with your caddie, looking in competitor bag, reading signals to TV personnel).

      It’s not even close to backstopping, which has the very real possibility of affecting the result of a stroke (even helping a poor one). The only similarity is that both are technically rule violations with inconsistent non-enforcement.

      The former should be assessed whether it continues to be a meaningful rule (no real advantage / allowed methods of circumventing it), while the latter makes sense because there’s an advantage as a basis for the rule.

  16. Rich Douglas

    Nov 7, 2019 at 9:52 am

    Kim protected the field, which is her responsibility. She held off with the call until the end of the round in case she was wrong; she didn’t want to have a false accusation affect the golfers’ play.

    Kim should be acknowledged and thanked for her actions.

    The other two? The player and caddie committed a rules infraction. They didn’t cheat, they broke a rule. It’s over.

    • Scratchscorer

      Nov 7, 2019 at 10:29 am

      Exactly. It’s a rule that comes with a penalty, not cheating. You can break rules anytime and accept the penalties for them. That’s not cheating any more than a shooting foul is cheating in basketball or pass interference is cheating in football. Couldn’t agree with you more.

    • Keith

      Nov 7, 2019 at 3:17 pm

      She actually reported it when it happened, but the rules official had no idea it was a rule. Neither did the other players. That is why she reported it at the scoring table. It is also why she went to Twitter to urge everyone, especially rules officials, to actually know the rules.

      • Bob

        Nov 7, 2019 at 4:06 pm

        It’s just what club being used is not a secret at any mean!! The rules official had no idea because it was a common practice. Kim literally saw it being done many many times in her career. On Kim’s theory, Kim should be disqualified forever for not reporting it 100 times before.

        Either Kim decided to use it as an excuse to screw two fellow players including an innocent player. Or, she always hated this common practice because she never did it herself but everyone was doing it.

        Then the burning question is.. when she saw the caddies flashing fingers to on-course staffs and nearby players, why did she never report those players before? She literally saw this being done over 1000 times in her career!!

      • Moosejaw McWilligher

        Nov 7, 2019 at 4:09 pm

        Players are penalized for not knowing rules. I hope the rules official was somehow penalized for his/her role in the debacle.

      • Joey5Picks

        Nov 7, 2019 at 4:21 pm

        Where did you read that she reported at the time, but the official didn’t know it was a rule? I haven’t seen that in any of the stories I’ve read and find that hard to believe.

  17. matt

    Nov 7, 2019 at 9:04 am

    First of all backstopping is not controversial outside of this website. Good on you if you can get a little lucky – god knows there are enough tough bounces in the game. And do not slow up play whatever you do.

    As for not concealing a club selection on a par 3, I hardly find that to be “giving advice.” Not to mention as a competitive player for over 20 year, including D1 college golf – knowing what others hit is probably more detrimental than helpful. Maybe on tour where they know each others yardages so well, but still. You have to know how the player struck the ball (which is impossible to know without asking), what they intended to do with it flight-wise and spin-wise. All things that shouldn’t be consuming your thoughts when you’re better off committing to your own strategy and shot.

  18. joe

    Nov 7, 2019 at 8:47 am

    Time to cut out eating cheese and diet cokes. Gads. I wonder if she’s seen that photo of herself?

    • Rich Douglas

      Nov 7, 2019 at 9:49 am

      You mean the one where she’s a professional golfer and your not?

      • James

        Nov 7, 2019 at 11:25 am

        Is that supposed to be some sort of comeback? She hits a ball to entertain others for a living. Not even close to a productive activity.

    • JD

      Nov 7, 2019 at 10:48 am

      Take the time it took to think and type that, and try doing something useful with it next time.

    • Scrambler

      Nov 7, 2019 at 12:53 pm

      Alex – I’ll take “idiotic things men say to ensure women know they’re losers” for $400.

      • Mt

        Nov 9, 2019 at 8:37 pm

        Haha…I’ll take guess my bra size for 2 hundo…

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Birdie holes and other myths

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I am an ardent observer of self-destructive things I see golfers do and hear golfers say, and one that really gets me is when I hear someone stand on the tee and proclaim, “This is a birdie hole.”
Really? How do you know when you haven’t even hit your drive yet, much less your approach? If you’re a 12 handicap, let’s say, there are really only 5-6 “par” holes out here; how can you think this one is a “birdie hole”?

This game is tough, and making birdies is the toughest achievement out there. Very few are made without hitting two better-than-average shots, or at least one remarkable one, whether the approach or the putt. Think about that for a minute. You could be a scratch golfer and never make one! Eighteen pars and a bogey or or two will get you to scratch on most courses. If you are an 8 handicap, that means you average about 82 or so, which equates to 8 pars and 10 bogeys in a round – what are you doing thinking about making a birdie at all, much less while on the tee?

My advice is that if you are a 10 handicap or higher, your singular thought on the tee should be to not make a double or higher. Chances are you don’t hit the driver 280-plus and you don’t hit even half the fairways. If you track your rounds, I’d bet you will find a high relativity of drives out of the fairway to doubles (or worse) put on the scorecard.

So let’s assume you got off the tee well, now what? When you face your approach shot, my advice is to figure out which side of the green gives you the best chance of getting up and down and the least odds of facing a short-side difficult pitch. And there’s never anything wrong with targeting the fat middle of the green, regardless of where the pin is located. On most courses, a ball in the dead center of the green will give you a half dozen or more reasonable putts, and the rest will not be overly long or difficult. The next round you play, just stand in the middle of the green after you are done and survey the putt that ball position would have given you.

Here’s another interesting and enlightening drill for you if you find yourself out for a day of learning on the golf course. On each hole, after your drive and approach, play a second ball from the “safe” side of the green, just as if you had missed your approach to this safe side. Then hit a pitch or chip and putt it out. Keep that score on along with the score you actually made and see how you come out.

I’ve been blessed to have played to a low handicap my whole life, and I am an entrepreneur…but I really do not have a gambler personality. On the golf course, I want to have fun, and I’ve learned that trying to save pars from the short side really doesn’t deliver that. If I’m tuned in to my game, I play the safe side of fairways off the tee and the safe side of the hole with my approaches. I make my share of birdies, and keep big numbers and bogeys on short holes to a minimum by taking this approach.

Of course, I find a 73 or 74 with only one or two birdies more fun than a 78 with 3 or 4. You might not.

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Opinion & Analysis

Requiem for a push cart

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I can’t believe it’s over. In the last four years, you have been with me for 3,686 holes. But I understand you are just too tired to go on. Your break is busted. Your wheels rattle. It’s time for you to retire, I understand, but it makes me sad nonetheless; Hogan, my trusted push cart.

It is hard to believe that was 4 years ago! Oh, how the time has passed! How many great memories we have! Hundreds of rounds and thousands of miles. Our amazing travels, playing with great friends, meeting new people, and of course love! I will never forget the first time you meet Mary ClickGear. The way she rolled up, four wheels, wearing that beautiful pink trimmed outfit. How your umbrella all of a sudden burst open and how embarrassed you were. HA! It was amazing, my friend, and I am so glad we got to share the moments together.

There were also the bad times: my struggles with putting yips, then chipping yips, then putting and chipping yips together. Yet through it, you stood resolute beside me.

I also remember your dark times, like when you got called “overweight” at the airport or shortly after how you tried to thrust yourself in a lake (destroying my brand new rangefinder). In these times, I tried to be a source of strength for you and show you how much our time together meant to me.

What I will remember most is your enduring love. During the past four years, many have come and gone (including the M5 irons, the Ping G500 irons, Apex irons, a Ping putter, an Odyssey putter, a long putter, belly putter, three Scotty Camerons, and another Ping putter) but through good and bad, there was one thing I could count on: you. Always steads. Quick to hold my drink or my umbrella. Never judging when I took time for ball-hawking. Always down for a walk, regardless of the weather! A true friend!

That’s why yesterday, our last round together, was so special. I know you were hurting, that right wheel barely holding on and the lingering joint pain, but you never complained. Until the end; you were there for every shot and for that I am truly grateful. I hope you noticed the tears going up 18. They were real and deserved; you were the best push cart ever, my friend!

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Mondays Off

Mondays Off: Shanks one day, shoot 77 the next? How? Should I wait to get fit?

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Shanks one day and then fire 77 the next? Steve and Knudson take on that question from a listener as well as one about fitting. New 2020 gear is coming out soon, so should you get fit now or wait until spring?

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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19th Hole

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