Golf has been hit by a so-called “backstop” row after professional golfer Jimmy Walker revealed he intentionally left his ball unmarked on a putting green to aid a playing partner during tournaments.
The admission from American Walker—a major winner in the 2016 PGA Championship—came after footage was posted to social media of Ben An and John Huh helping one another by leaving a ball behind the hole while the other chipped.
Marking the ball
While a player does not need to mark the ball on the green if a playing partner is putting or chipping from off the putting surface, the idea of deliberately backstopping is not permitted in the rules of golf and Rule 22-1 declares any player involved in such an act should be disqualified.
All of those details emerged after Walker had played his hand and revealed he does help out some—but not all—playing partners when it comes to backstopping.
Replying to a tweet from Michael Clayton, a former European Tour and Australian Tour player for 20 years, regarding the An and Huh incident in which he wrote, “Ben An and John Huh helping each other out here. What a joke”, Walker revealed just how far he has gone in the past.
Social media exchanges
Walker wrote: “Usually a guy will ask if he would like to mark it. If you don’t like a guy you will mark anyway. 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.”
In reply to another Clayton tweet relating to who he helps, Walker added: “I try to help everyone. Especially if they got a bad break or got short sided. I’ve asked ‘do you want me to leave the ball?’,”
Clayton pointed out in such a scenario both are in breach of Rule 22 and would be disqualified. Walker wrote: “Really….? Glad we have rules guys like you around. Do you have the call in hotline number? What is it? Golf is hard dude. Try it out.”
Clayton’s response was measured: “I did try it. I played European and Australian tour for 20 years. I well know it’s hard.”
If the ball of a player coming onto the green was to hit the backstop, it would remain in the position it finished. The player whose ball had been the backstop and had been moved can replace his back to the original spot it sat before the collision.
On the eve of the U.S. Open, Walker moved to clarify his comments in an interview with the Golf Channel.
“It happens all the time where, you chip, you pitch a ball up on the green and you ask the person that’s coming next, if they’re pitching, ‘Do you want me to go mark that?’ That’s just the way it is. It happens,” Walker said in the interview.
“And a lot of times you leave it in the other player’s hands. ‘Do you want the ball marked?’ I’ve always asked, ‘Do you want it marked?’ I give that person the option. I was just trying to shed some light on how it actually happens out here.”
War of words
One player who wasn’t impressed though was Lee Westwood, who was soon involved in his own war of words with Walker on social media.
“The ball should be marked,” he wrote. “A player has a responsibility to the rest of the field.”
Walker responded with: “So you have never asked a player if he would like your ball marked? I find that hard to believe.”
Westwood added: “No. Never. You would find it hard to believe if you think it acceptable to intentionally leave your ball there to possibly assist your playing partner. Ask a rules official at your next tournament to see what they think. My opinion is that you have a responsibility to the field.”