Jun 13th, 2018
Backstopping in golf – what's in it for you?
And should it be banned?
Words: Tim Southwell
Dustin Johnson: "For me, if a ball is remotely close to my line, I have them mark it. I've always done it. If the ball is out of my way, I'll have it left there. But if it's remotely around where I'm hitting it, I'll have them mark it."
Justin Thomas: "There's really nothing for me to say because no matter what, it's going to be the wrong side. So I'd rather not just get into it."
What the blazes are they going on about? 'Backstopping', that's what. It's golf's latest term for us to get to grips with and it's causing mayhem with golf's sense of morality and presents an awkward scenario for the rule book...
Jason Day to the rescue: "Backstopping is when you and your playing partner are off the green and you chip up and don't mark your ball and he chips and hits your ball, which causes him to be closer to the hole than he was going to be."
So the question here is whether or not backstopping is legal under the rules of golf and/or in the spirit of the game?
'Backstopping' as a term was coined by golf hack Geoff Shackleford in 2017 and gained notoriety in October last year when Tony Finau used another player's ball as a backstop at the Safeway Open, while playing a greenside bunker shot. Finau played his bunker shot before his playing partner, Jason Kokrak had chance to mark his ball, which was about a foot from the hole.
If Kokrak's ball had been in a place on the green that could have a detrimental effect on Finau's shot, Finau would have asked him to mark the ball. But it wasn't, so Finau went ahead and played his shot.
"The funny thing is I forgot he hit," Finau said at the time. "I was so focused on what I needed to do and how hard my shot was. … It was a bonus to hit his ball, and I used the rules to my advantage I guess, not knowing."
Jimmy Walker is another player to have voiced his opinion on the matter and, perhaps unwittingly, shines a light on the question of morality.
"Usually a guy will ask if he would like to mark it," says Walker. "If you don't like a guy you will mark anyway, but if you like the guy you might leave it to help on a shot. Some guys don't want to give help at all and rush to mark their ball. To each his own."
Michael Clayton, the former European Tour player, took to Twitter to take umbrage with Walker's comments, referring to them as 'a joke', and added: "So you decide who is worthy of your help and who isn't?"
He' s got a point, as has Shackleford: "It's all very wink-wink, which is why I pay attention to it and why I dislike it so much."
The rules do legislate for this. Rule 22 states: 'In stroke play, if the committee determines that competitors have agreed not to lift a ball that might assist any competitor, they are disqualified.'
But how do you determine whether the players have conspired? Especially when we're trying to speed the game up. If questioned, players would simply say they were just trying to get on with it.
Maybe it's a new generation thing. You can't imagine the likes of Seve or Paul Azinger giving it the magnanimous "after you, Claude" treatment, and Jason Day certainly rocks it old-school when it comes to backstopping: "I'm not trying to help anyone. That's my competition. I'm nice to them, but I don't want to help them. We have 144 guys, 156 guys, every week. They're my competition. I need to beat them. I don't want to help them."
What do you guys think? Has it happened to you? Comments welcome below.