Just five days after Haotong Li became the first pro on a major tour penalized for his caddie breaking a new rule about lining up (or being perceived to be lining up) their players, PGA Tour player Denny McCarthy was issued a two-stroke penalty under the same rule.
McCarthy was preparing to play his fourth shot on the par-5 15th hole at TPC Scottsdale in Friday's second round of the 2019 Waste Management Phoenix Open. The 25-year-old was getting ready to hit a 67-yard shot after his second shot found the guarding water hazard. As McCarthy was taking practice strokes before the shot, his caddie, Derek Smith, was filmed by TV cameras standing behind McCarthy. Under the strict interpretation of new Rule 10.2b(4) of the 2019 Rules of Golf, McCarthy's caddie was violating the statute that a caddie cannot stand behind a player from when they take a stance through when the shot is struck.
This is even worse than Haotong Li!! Y’all did my boy @_dennymccarthy dirty!! Practice swings, no intention to hit the ball, lines HIMSELF up, AND THEN GOES INTO HIS STANCE... get outta here @PGATOUR @WMPhoenixOpen pic.twitter.com/sbBbsaaLjl
— Brad Schneider (@bschneid117) February 2, 2019
Even though McCarthy clearly took a stance on a practice stroke, and even though he clearly backed off the original practice stroke stance before hitting the shot with his caddie off to the side, the PGA Tour penalized McCarthy two strokes under the new rule.
McCarthy's up-and-down for par turned out to be a double-bogey 7.
The Maryland native said he didn't even notice his caddie was behind him.
“Not once in my life have I had a caddie line me up before a shot,” McCarthy said to Golf Channel. “I had no intent to cheat at all. It’s something I guess we can learn from and move on from it, but yeah it’s definitely disappointing because I didn’t feel like I was breaking a rule at all.”
Under the new Rule 10.2b, McCarthy was subject to penalty when, according to PGA Tour rules officials, he took a "golf posture" near the ball with his caddie behind him or near the direct path of his hypothetical line -- even if it was for a practice stroke, as he could use that as guidance for the actual stance and shot.
Further, McCarthy could not avoid the penalty by backing away from his practice stroke stance and resetting the entire process. While a player can avoid the penalty by backing off and resetting while on the putting green, a player cannot wash away the offense of him and his caddie by resetting in the "general area."
Rickie Fowler was not penalized two strokes under the same rule though caddie Joe Skovron was filmed standing behind Fowler as he was preparing for the shot and addressed the ball. Skovron, who was looking at his yardage book at the time, quickly noticed his player's position and ducked out of the way. The PGA Tour determined that was not a penalty under Rule 10.2b because Skovron was not "intentionally" standing behind Fowler.
The reaction from much of golf -- particularly pro golfers and caddies -- was one of frustration and exasperation at the new rule and its enforcement.
— Justin Thomas (@JustinThomas34) February 2, 2019
The reaction follows European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley calling the penalty called on Li at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic "grossly unfair" and asking the R&A and USGA to examine changing the language behind the rule. R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers responded quickly to Pelley's public plea by saying the rule would not be changing.
The spirit of the new rule was to prevent caddies from standing behind players to line them up until the very moment before they took back the club. However, in the two high-profile penalties issued under this new rule so far, the caddie in question was clearly not doing that for their player.