Rules Guy: Is it permissible to walk up and watch the group ahead putt?

January 21, 2020

The Rules of Golf are tricky! Thankfully, we’ve got the guru. Our Rules Guy knows the book front to back. Got a question? He’s got all the answers.

At last year’s Players Championship, DJ, Sergio and Rahm were on the green of a drivable par 4. They waved up the threesome behind them — Rory, Phil and Kooch — who hit, then walked up the fairway. Phil and Kooch stayed 20 yards from the green, but Rory came up to watch the group ahead putt. Had he gained an unfair advantage? (Soon after, he rolled in his own long birdie putt.) . And did the group ahead fail to protect the field by letting Rory watch them putt? —RUSSEL WYBORSKI, VIA E-MAIL

Reading this query, I couldn’t shake the image of Dustin Johnson brandishing his putter overhead and chasing Rory off, in double time, to the theme from Benny Hill.

Slapstick reveries notwithstanding, there is no Rules concern here, unless Rory unreasonably delayed play (Rule 5.6a) by, say, taking forever and a day to walk back to his ball after the green had cleared.

As to fairness and protecting the field, the Rules and Rules Guy are silent, leaving the ethics and policing to the players themselves (except to note that players watch one another on the tee all the time during dreaded tournament backups, and surely they note the effect of gusting winds, etc.). And now I’m off to watch old Benny Hill clips on the inter-webs.

Got a question about the Rules? Ask the Rules Guy! Send your queries, confusions and comments to rulesguy@golf.com. We promise he won’t throw the book at you.

Want more Rules Guy? Check out these recent columns:
Is it permissible to check a bunker’s depth with a tee?
Does a hand warmer near my golf ball violate the Rules?
What happens when a stuck flagstick prevents your putt from going in?