Jimmy Walker’s backstopping comment sparks Twitter storm

The backstopping debate has flown under the radar until Jimmy Walker made a frank admission on Twitter over the weekend.

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There have been a number of vocal critics rallying against the practice of ‘backstopping’ in golf for some time now. But it may have just reached a crescendo after the 2016 US PGA Champion Jimmy Walker made a comment on Twitter concerning the practice.

It all sparked a massive Twitter debate involving the source of the initial tweet, Mike Clayton, Jimmy Walker and loads of other people including Erin Walker, Lee Westwood, Luke Donald and Curtis Strange.

If you missed it all and you’re still not exactly sure what ‘backstopping’ is, keep reading. Lets go through it piece-by-piece.

What is backstopping?
Backstopping is the act of leaving your golf ball in a position that may benefit your playing partner.

An example of this may be if a player has hit his ball somewhere near the flagstick, probably close behind it. Rather than marking, he or she will leave it there so that a playing partner who is playing a shot from off the green may benefit from using it as a backstop if they hit it past the hole.

Is this a breach of the rules of golf?
Kinda. If the two players involved have colluded in any way to leave the first player’s golf ball as a potential backstop it is a breach of golf rule 22-1 which in part says:

  • In stroke play, if the Committee determines that competitors have agreed not to lift a ball that might assist any competitor, they are disqualified

If there is no collusion, then there is no disqualification.

It all seems a little grey then?
It is. And it’s something only the tournament officials can determine and hand out a penalty if required. Collusion must be determined and despite some clear examples being shown in recent times you won’t find any golfers admitting to the practice. At least until Jimmy Walker chimed into the debate.

But why is backstopping such a big deal?
In terms of some of the issues concerning golf, it isn’t. But as a sport that prides itself on sportsmanship and self-policing integrity it’s all about “protecting the field”. Which means ensuring that the conditions of play are as similar as possible for everyone playing in the tournament.

If one particular player has the advantage of a backstop, no matter how small, on a particular hole that no one else did then the tournament has been compromised. Hence, rule 22-1.

So what was this Jimmy Walker comment all about?
There appears to have been an increase in the prevalence of backstopping in recent years on the big professional golf tours.

One of golf’s most interesting voices, Michael Clayton again expressed his disdain at the practice over the weekend. Clayton posted this video of what looks like a clear breach of rule 22-1 during the St.Jude Classic between golfers Ben An and John Huh:

And Jimmy Walker responded with this incredibly surprising admission that he and other tour pros regularly leave their golf ball as a backstop for other players.

Not surprisingly, a twitter storm then ensued.

Some of Walker’s responses were poor and as someone who was lucky enough to play along side him they do seem out of character.

All the same, the admission and ignorance of the rules of golf were startling. It’s the reason Mike Clayton was quick to defend Walker when it comes to cheating. Walker’s clear lack of knowledge of the rule makes it obvious this is a rules breach rather than any intent to cheat.

It’s not surprising many others then chimed in on the backstopping debate. Here are a few starting with Erin Walker:

Curtis Strange:

Lee Westwood on backstopping:

Luke Donald:

Eddie Pepperall:

And this one from a few years ago got retweeted:

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