Saturday 18 August 2018

Lee Westwood and Luke Donald enter 'backstop' row after Jimmy Walker admits to illegally helping rivals

Lee Westwood and Luke Donald
Lee Westwood and Luke Donald

Jamie Johnson

Lee Westwood and Luke Donald have weighed into a debate over gamesmanship just days before the US Open, after one player admitted to breaking the laws of golf while playing on the PGA Tour.

Jimmy Walker, the 2016 US PGA champion, took aim at Westwood, saying on Twitter that he found it hard to believe that the Englishman did not help out other golfers by leaving his ball when it is on the green close to the pin, rather than picking it up and marking the spot where it stopped, so his opponent can use it as a backstop if they are attempting a tricky shot.

Walker said: “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?’.

“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.”

Walker was directed to the United States Golf Association rule book by Michael Clayton, a former tour professional of 20 years. Rule 22 says: “In strokeplay, if the committee determines that competitors have agreed not to lift a ball that might assist any competitor, they are disqualified.”

The backstop means that the golfer attempting to putt or chip onto the green has a target to aim at to slow their ball down or bring it to a stop.

If the balls collide, the second ball must be hit from where it stops – often close to the hole, while the ball that was struck may be put back to where it originally was. If this situation happens because the golfers have colluded, they should be disqualified.

But the American shone a light on to the integrity of other tour players, saying: “I just ask a guy if he wants it marked sometimes. Give them the option. Lots of guys do it.”

Westwood and Donald, both former world No 1s, disputed Walker’s view. “The ball should be marked,” said Westwood. “A player has a responsibility to the rest of the field.”

Walker challenged Westwood, saying: “So you have never asked a player if he would like your ball marked? I find that hard to believe.”

Westwood was firm, saying: “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.”

Donald said: “Every time I play an event, my goal is to shoot a lower score over 72 holes than everyone else playing, so why on earth would I intentionally help a fellow competitor by not marking my ball?”

He later added: “I try and mark as much as possible. If I’m the one playing, I will wait for my playing partner to mark if I think his ball is near enough to my line.”

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