Brooks Koepka and his caddie, Ricky Elliott, on the 15th hole of the Masters on Thursday.
AUGUSTA, Ga. — The first day of the Masters was nearly complete. Viktor Hovland was in the house at seven under. Jon Rahm, too. Brooks Koepka was about to sign his scorecard and join them atop the leaderboard with a 65 of his own. But then, some questions.
Koepka’s entire group was asked about an exchange that took place in the 15th fairway between his caddie, Ricky Elliott, and Gary Woodland’s caddie, Thomas Little. Elliott appeared to mention the club Koepka played to Little, which would be a breach of Rule 10-2a, which centers on giving advice. It’s a tricky rule that is put in place to protect the field, but it’s not always so clear what would constitute “advice” or what is direct communication.
During a meeting with officials — Koepka was in the scoring building for about 15 minutes — the group of players and caddies consulted confirmed that nothing took place that would breach the rule and the tournament issued a ruling that no penalty would be applied. All of this took place at the tail end of the broadcast window Thursday evening, but not so late that it wasn’t covered by the team of analysts at Golf Channel.
Paul McGinley, Brandel Chamblee and Rich Lerner jumped into the sticky situation in their post-round show and didn’t hold back on the awkward and complicated nature of it. We’ve embedded the video below and transcribed the entire sequence.
McGinley: “Well it’s very obvious. 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.”
Lerner: “And why is that?”
McGinley: “I’ve been on Tour. That’s what it is. You see it on par-3s. You see other caddies, this is what happens. It’s common practice. It is in the Rules. The Rules are very clear there. It is a breach of the Rules. Maybe an incident like this, where the evidence is so overwhelming that it was quite clear what went down there. If the Rules authorities want to stamp this out and really come down on this and make an example of it — obviously they’ve chosen not to do that. It looked very clear, the evidence is against them. If that’s the case, I think a lot of players in the field — if they’re putting a hand on hearts — there’d be a lot of penalties out there today, with what went down in other groups as well. We just happened to see it on camera.”
Lerner: “And by the way it would have been a two-shot penalty for Gary Woodland had either he or his caddie asked for the number.”
McGinley: “I don’t think there’s a player in the field, hand on heart, who could say that they or their caddie at some stage hasn’t either taken a hand off their clubs so the other player can see it or something. Whether you like it or not, it’s kind of—”
Lerner: “So not a big deal, in your estimate?”
McGinley: “I’m a stickler for the Rules, we’re all sticklers for the Rules. But it’s just not seen as a serious breach.”
Chamblee: “Todd [Lewis] raised a good point that caddies all the time signal a walking announcer/commentator what they’re hitting. They generally do it with hand signals. And it looked to me like Ricky Elliot was clearly looking at [Woodland’s caddie Thomas] Little when he said “five.” To your point, it was very obvious that he said five. I hear you, and I don’t ever remember another caddie or player audibly telling another caddie or player what they hit. I played professional golf for 20 years, I’ve never heard a caddie or player audibly—“
McGinley: “You’ve not seen a caddie look in the bag? You’ve not seen a caddie lift his hand off the club to see what they’ve done? Have you not seen caddies lift the hand off the club as they’re cleaning it. Lift the hand off it so they can see it? It’s the same thing, isn’t it?
Chamblee: “Fifty to 60 years ago, if a player walked over and looking in the bag of Sam Snead, you know, [Snead] would swing real easy at a 4-iron and hit it to 10 feet and watch them hit a 4-iron over the back of the green. It was not okay. It was frowned upon. It is frowned upon. It is giving advice. The Rules are there to protect the integrity of the competition.”
McGinley: “And rightly so.”
Chamblee: “Gary Woodland hit a beautiful shot in there. Really close to the hole.”
McGinley: “After that.”
Chamblee: “He landed it right by the hole. He made an easy birdie. Let’s just say we fast-forward to Sunday and he beats Sam Burns by one. Sam Burns wasn’t in that group. And let’s just say Gary Woodland was between clubs, but because his caddie knew clearly what Brooks Koepka had hit, he know clearly what club it was for Gary Woodland. I imagine those two hit it pretty similar distances. Maybe he was thinking 7 [iron] and he chose a 6-iron because he was a little bit in front of him. Maybe he would have hit it in the water, we just don’t know. But that is called protecting the integrity of the competition. That is called protecting the field. So to see something like that so obviously in violation of the Rules. Look, I can’t imagine why Brooks Koepka wouldn’t have seen that and gone — I’m not saying Brooks Koepka was saying it’s okay — but once having seen it, knowing that the caddie is an extension of the player, you’d have to go, ‘That’s on me. My bad. I’ve got to take two shots.’ Because that’s what the rule says. That’s what clearly happened. And that is the right thing to do.”
“As it is, it is a 65,” Lerner said for the final word. “It has been put to bed.”
Zak is a writer at GOLF Magazine, currently working on a book about the summer he spent in St. Andrews. You can read about those travels here and catch his latest thoughts on the Drop Zone Podcast:
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