AUGUSTA, Ga. — Just when we thought we had every storyline covered at this Masters, then came the Rules of Golf.
Brooks Koepka jumped out to a hot start with a 32 on his front nine Thursday at Augusta National. He remained at four under in the middle of the fairway on the par-5 15th, when he went after a 5-iron from 231 yards.
“This plays about 12 yards downhill,” Trevor Immelman said on the broadcast
That 5-iron got there just fine, as Koepka’s ball landed just right of the flag and rolled out to 24 feet. He’d two-putt for an easy birdie and move to five under. Two more birdies helped him finish in a tie for the first-round lead. And then he was prompted with a Rules question.
Tournament officials questioned Koepka’s caddie Ricky Elliott and others in the group about if Elliott broke a rule right after Koepka’s impressive 5-iron. Video from the broadcast was shared rapidly on social media of Elliott seemingly telling Gary Woodland’s caddie “five,” as in 5-iron. You can check out the video for yourself below.
Why would it be an issue? Directly communicating which club a player used on a given shot would constitute giving advice and would be an infraction of Rule 10-2a. The rule states that during a round a player may not give advice to anyone in the competition who is playing the course, and a player’s caddie is an extension of them when it comes to breaching a rule. Elliott giving advice is treated the same as Koepka giving advice. Koepka would be docked two strokes.
However, Elliott and the various members in the group who were asked about this exchange all said it was not advice-related. The Masters Tournament issued a short bulletin in response, saying, “All involved were adamant that no advice was given or requested. Consequently, the Committee determined there was no breach of the Rules.”
Koepka visited the press center shortly after that, and was asked to explain what he knew of the situation.
“Yeah, we looked at it when we got back in,” Koepka said. “[Gary Woodland and his caddie] had no idea what we were hitting. They didn’t even know because — I know that fact because GW asked me what we hit walking off, when we were walking down. So that’s all I can give you.”
There you have it. Only the flames had taken a bit on this story. Enough for it to become a topic on Live From the Masters on Golf Channel. Former player Paul McGinley explained the nuances of the rule and why sometimes it doesn’t really apply in reality.
“Well it’s very obvious,” McGinley said. “Anybody looking at those pictures, it’s very obvious what happens. It’s staggering that they’ve denied it, because the video evidence is there. Look, I know Ricky very well. He’s a smashing guy. He’s a great guy. This is common practice on Tour. Whether you like it or not, it’s common practice. It happens in every professional tournament around the world. It’s not obvious always, so blatant.
“Players and caddies, who always adhere to the Rules and treat the Rules [as] very, very important — how important the Rules are — this is not considered a serious breach among players.”
For the Rules sticklers at home, that was the second dispute to burn across social media Thursday. While playing the 6th hole, Collin Morikawa had some issues with his ball holding its place after he marked it. The greens at Augusta National are as slick as any in the world, so this sort of thing can happen. Only when the video hits Twitter do the questions quickly arise.
Morikawa went on to call it “pretty routine in our rule books thankfully,” but Nick Piastowski dove into the case for GOLF.com. You can read all about that situation here.