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LPGA rules no 'backstopping' infraction occurred with Olson, Jutanugarn

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Amy Olson and Ariya Jutanugarn created a buzz over whether they violated a rule against “backstopping” during the second round of the Honda Thailand tournament, but the LPGA ruled before either player began Saturday’s third round that no infraction occurred.

“After speaking with Amy Olson and Ariya Jutanugarn, the LPGA rules committee determined that there was no breach of Rule 15.3a,” the LPGA said in a statement. “There was no agreement by either player to leave Jutanugarn’s ball in place to help Olson’s next stroke. An LPGA Rules Official was approaching the 18th green at the time and agreed that no breach had occurred.”

Rule 15.3a prohibits players from agreeing to leave a ball unmarked to act “as a backstop” when playing shots from “just off the putting green.”

A violation of the rule calls for each player to receive a two-shot penalty, or to be disqualified if they knowingly conspired to break the rule.

“Rule 15.3a clearly states that for a breach to occur, that two or more players must agree to leave a ball in place to help any player on her next stroke,” the LPGA said in its statement. “This was not the case between Olson and Jutanugarn.”

The LPGA said pace of play was a mitigating factor.

Olson started the third round at 9-under overall, two shots off the lead, and Jutanugarn at 4 under.

At the 18th hole Friday, Jutanugarn chipped to within a foot. Afterward, cameras showed her begin to step toward the green, while looking toward Olson. Jutanugarn pointed to herself and then toward the ball, as if signaling she was going to mark, but she stopped in her tracks, as if she were waved off. Olson then chipped, hitting a shot that looked as if it were going to run well past the pin before it collided with Jutanugarn’s ball and stopped about 2 feet from the hole.

Olson chuckled, then bowed toward Jutanugarn. They fist bumped as they walked toward the green together.

Olson benefitted from Jutanugarn’s ball not being marked, and Jutanugarn was allowed by rule to return her ball to its spot a foot from the hole.

Before starting the third round, Olson said pace of play was a factor in her wanting to play quickly. She said their group had a wait on the 18th tee, another 10-minute wait in the 18th fairway and then another wait just off the 18th green with Michelle Wie asking for an official to help her with a ruling before she played.

“All about context,” Olson said. “Ariya and I went before Michelle even though she was out. Ariya’s ball was not in my intended line, and to help move things along, I told her it was fine [not to mark].

“I had never even heard of the backstopping issue, as I don’t really watch PGA Tour golf that much, and it hasn’t really been an issue on the LPGA.”

Olson said she’s definitely aware of it now.

“Obviously, with everything that has gone down, I think we all, especially me, will be more conscious of it, and I will have everyone mark anything remotely close to the hole now,” Olson said.

An LPGA official confirmed that Michelle Wie, playing in the same group, was waiting on a rules official and that Jutanugarn and Olson played first “to keep the pace moving.” Wie can be seen in TV highlights waiting for the ruling.

Olson’s caromed off Jutanugarn’s ball set up a closing birdie to close out a 67.

15.3a/1 – Breach of Rule for Leaving Helping Ball in Place Does Not Require Knowledge

In stroke play, under Rule 15.3a, 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.

If the players know that they are not allowed to make such an agreement, but still do it, they are both disqualified under Rule 1.3b(1) for deliberately ignoring Rule 15.3a.