Justin Thomas

Backstopping: Is it a problem, and how should it be addressed?

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Are players breaking the intent of the pro game by leaving balls near the hole while others play? Golfweek’s Geoff Shackelford and Brentley Romine address the issue of backstopping:

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Shackelford: Time is now to put a halt to backstopping

Backstopping must stop. Now. The image and integrity of the PGA Tour depends on its members playing by the rules. The weird and rapidly evolving practice of leaving courtesy backstops in the vicinity of the hole bends the spirit of the rules and can only lead fans to ask: “If they’re willing to do this for the opposition, what other collusion is occurring?”

Yes, it’s a breath of fresh air that today’s Tour players are pals and wish the best for their opponents. But not at the expense of a hallmark trait that has drawn people to a very difficult sport. We admire the honesty of golfers in a sports world often tainted by corruption. Corporations look past small audience sizes to associate with these noble athletes. Golf has thrived on a paucity of scandal.

Sure, the Rules of Golf are a pain and a welcomed de-bloating is coming. But this looming change does not give players the right to bend the spirit of those rules in the ludicrous name of speeding up play, as many claim when leaving a ball down even as they stand a six-second walk away.

Having a top player such as Justin Thomas openly confess that it’s his right to play faster just to take advantage of a ball near the hole indicated a generational shift that will not end well for the Tour. If the perception is that one of the players is helping another instead of competing, the sport will lose appeal on multiple fronts. That this practice is even a “thing” speaks to a cultural shift that, if it becomes commonplace, could cause some to question the integrity of the players and cause sponsors to flee. Or, at the very least, make fans question if players are colluding in other ways.

Play can be sped up in much better ways than this.

• • •

Romine: Rushing to judgment about intent is irresponsible

It’s almost impossible to prove intent, which is why people shouldn’t be so quick to speculate about what’s going on in the minds of Tour players.

Sure, Tony Finau’s ball took a fortuitous bounce off Jason Kokrak’s ball at the Safeway Open. But who’s to say if Kokrak intended to help Finau?

Simply put: Collusion demands intent.

It’s downright irresponsible to call out players for backstopping when, in fact, no one is certain that they even meant to do it. Yet, hashtag-wielding whistle-blowers will take to Twitter to call out guys for it and demand something be done about this rabid problem that apparently happens all the time in pro golf. Here’s a thought: Maybe you just think it does.

It’s funny how quickly people rush to judgment without actually being there. In the latest “example,” Kokrak was not near his ball yet and Finau chose to not wait for Kokrak’s ball to be marked. That’s not a conspiracy; Kokrak and Finau didn’t agree not to lift the ball, as Rule 22-1 addresses. It’s a player taking advantage of the rules.

As Justin Thomas said Sunday night: “It’s a part of the game. If I want to rush and hit a shot for that reason, it’s my right.”

Let me make clear that I don’t approve of players intentionally leaving their balls unmarked on greens to potentially help their playing competitors – and I’m not saying that it never happens. However, I just wish people would put down their pitch forks for a second.

If people want to prevent backstopping, take it up with the rule makers; push for a rule to be enforced where all balls must be marked on the green before the next shot is played. That would take intent off the table.

Don’t call out players who may or may not be backstopping. Don’t try to influence rules officials to penalize players based on intent. (We’ve all seen in recent years how determining intent can cause murky rules situations.)

It’s unfair, and frankly this witch hunt needs to stop.