#AskAlan: Would the controversial caddie ruling happen to a top-10 golfer?

January 30, 2019

Every week, GOLF senior writer Alan Shipnuck fields questions from the masses about hot topics in the golf world. This week, Shipnuck takes on Bryson DeChambeau’s unique talents, the new rules’ effect on the pro game, the controversial caddie ruling involving Haotong Li, and much more.

Alan, what are your thoughts on how much of an advantage Bryson really has over other golfers or is it all in the mind? -Paul (@prhughes)

It’s both. With his one-plane swing and single-length equipment, Bryson has taken much of the complexity out of the game, making it easier to repeat the same swing over and over, which is what every player desires, especially under pressure. Some of the things he does at first blush seem silly – like spritzing range balls with water to see how that affects their flight – but in a game where one yard can be the difference between agony and ecstasy, you gotta respect Bryson’s endless quest to find tiny advantages.

Maybe on a damp morning he will be more dialed in than other players who have only ever practiced with dry range balls. Maybe it makes no difference at all. But the key is that Bryson believes he has an edge, and, therefore, he does. Factor in his endless capacity for work, the know-how that has come with winning at every level and his single-minded drive to be great, and you have a player in full flight.

Bryson DeChambeau during the final round of his win at the 2019 Dubai Desert Classic
Bryson DeChambeau during the final round of his win at the 2019 Dubai Desert Classic.

Given this run of play, what is the ceiling for Bryson? -JJ (@bigeasyWI)

The roof? Nah, that only works when MJ says it. Clearly DeChambeau has the game to win on any golf course, and this year’s majors are an intriguing mix, with Bethpage and Portrush being big and brawny, while Pebble is a finesse course that demands precision. I think he can excel on any of them, and even as an amateur Bryson showed he can contend at Augusta National.

One thing we’ve seen recently in the game is that young superstars have these bursts of incredible play and then fall back. Rory and Jordan and Jason Day had their runs, Koepka is enjoying one right now, and JT is trying to keep his going. It appears to be hard to sustain the intensity and focus needed to stay at the summit for more than 18 months to two years. This coincides with unimaginable wealth, global fame/scrutiny, increased corporate demands, and big life changes like marriage and kids. Bryson is so maniacal he might plow straight through all of that, but it’s not easy to do so.

#AskAlan Is Bryson taking the piss with his caddie every time he asks for a yardage? [email protected]

Yes and no. Bryson loves to be the smartest guy in the room, and he knows that the mics will now always find him, so it’s fun for him to engage in esoterica like air density. But the scary thing is that he is also deadly serious about this stuff.

Would the ruling Li have happened if it was a top 10 U.S. player? -Rikki (@eWanYoungSon)

A few years ago Tiger got dinged for a bad drop in Abu Dhabi, and Spieth was hit by the Euro Tour with a slow-play penalty, so I don’t think we can say Li is the victim of prejudice, either against non-Westerners or those outside the top 10. I’m in the minority here but I liked the ruling! Caddies lining up players is so tacky, as is loopers hovering over 3-footers, as Li’s caddie was doing when the penalty was assessed. This is the big leagues, players need to figure out this stuff on their own. Whether or not Li had taken his stance is debatable, but there is no question his caddie was farting around back there where he didn’t belong. I hope this penalty has a chilling effect on helicopter caddies.

Haotong Li and his caddie during of the 2019 Dubai Desert Classic.
Haotong Li and his caddie during of the 2019 Dubai Desert Classic..

Why are the rules of golf so terrible? [email protected]

It really is amazing that so many dedicated and presumably smart people spend so much time cogitating on the rules and tweaking them endlessly and yet the pro game remains engulfed by endless b.s. I really think golf needs only three rules:

1. Play the ball as it lies.
2. If you a lose a ball, drop it where you think it disappeared, one stroke penalty.
3. If something weird or unprecedented happens, talk it over with your playing partners, apply common sense, do the right thing and move on.

That wasn’t hard, was it?

Why is Johnny Miller retiring at a gong show tournament like the Waste Management? Shouldn’t he go out at the British Open or the Players? What kind of blubber-fest are you anticipating when he signs off? [email protected]

In the ‘70s, some of Miller’s most iconic blowouts came in Phoenix, to the point that he was known as the Desert Fox. But I think once Johnny decided this winter it was time to go he wanted to ride into the sunset as soon as possible. Since it is NBC’s first broadcast of the year, that meant Phoenix. And yes, there is no doubt Johnny will be leaking badly. Despite his barbs he’s a deeply sentimental guy, and he’s taken tremendous pride in being recognized as the most influential voice in the game. I’m sorry to see him go.

Is Justin Rose today the same Rosie of prior years, with a slightly higher gear, or is he on his way to elite-level separation from the pack?
[email protected]

Rose has separated himself with elite-level consistency. All that’s missing is to convert all of those high finishes into more wins, and that’s why his performance at Torrey Pines was momentous. Over the last six months Rose suffered some considerable Sunday setbacks: at Shinnecock, Carnoustie, during the FedEx Cup and even in Shanghai. To come back from three early bogeys at Torrey and storm to victory, with a stand-in caddie and new clubs, answered a lot of questions.

The missing piece for Rose remains to snag another major championship; hard to believe it’s going on six years since his U.S. Open breakthrough (though I give more weight than most to the gold medal). Rose turns 39 this year. The way he is playing right now he has a chance to go down as one of the best players of this era, but that is measured in wins, not top-10s.

If you could trade places with anyone in golf (past or present) for a day, who would it be and why? [email protected]

Maybe Ben Crenshaw on Masters Sunday in 1984. It would be magical to feel those putts go in on those greens. But I’m going to say Sept. 27, 1930, when Bobby Jones finished off the Grand Slam at Merion. At that moment, he was probably the most celebrated athlete in the history of the world, and he had just achieved what nearly a century later remains one of the sport’s most iconic accomplishments. And for Jones it brought sweet relief, knowing he was done with the crucible of competition and that he could retire to a life of writing indelible books. Oh, and already on that night he was nursing the ambition to create a unique golf course that could host a friendly invitational, which a few years later he would bring to life on the site of a former nursery in Augusta, Ga.

The plaque at Merion honoring Bobby Jones's U.S. Amateur victory there
The plaque at Merion honoring Bobby Jones’s U.S. Amateur victory there.
Getty Images

#AskAlan Do you believe that the whole “music on the golf course” travesty can be traced directly to Al Czervik in 1980? -Brad (@thetripleBB)

No question he was a pioneer in various forms of on-course debauchery. I’ve gotten a few questions lately about the playing of music on the course. I don’t do it, mainly because I never have and it just never occurs to me. But I have a few friends who rarely play without it, in genres ranging from Too Short to Vampire Weekend. I always enjoy the tunes, but, importantly, these guys don’t blast the volume to the point that it affects other groups. That’s really the issue – not everyone enjoys music on the course and you shouldn’t impose your (often crappy) tastes on everyone else. With the proliferation of wireless earbuds I think this will be less of an issue going forward.

#AskAlan if Adam Scott hits driver and 4 iron to fly a ball on a green 613 yards away, can we not agree that pros are not playing the same game as 99% of amateurs? Different games require different rules and equipment. #bifurcation [email protected]

It’s a compelling argument. But I don’t think anyone in Far Hills or St. Andrews is ready to accept that just yet. Look at the scoring so far this year – it appears if you don’t shoot a couple dozen under par you don’t stand a chance at victory. Maybe someone needs to shoot 25 under at Augusta National for the alarm bells to sound.

Four guys celebrating the big 5-0, with an unequal enthusiasm for golf (one of the four plays to humor the three nuts). Probably only two nights, flying from various Northeastern locations in summer. What’s the perfect spot? [email protected]

If you were all hardcore I’d say Cabot, where you can maximize spectacular golf, since there ain’t much else to do. Same with Streamsong. But to keep your fourth happy, I’d go to Hilton Head. It has a great vibe, excellent restaurants, a fun bar scene and, if he wants to skip a round while you play 36, it’s an easy drive to Savannah for some culture.

Should the LPGA be on Golf Channel more? -Pat (@GalaxyGuy27)

Obviously, but it requires more creative thinking. I’ve long advocated for every LPGA event to run Saturday-Tuesday. You could have the pro am on Friday, which is a great day for businessmen to play hooky. You could still attract big weekend crowds, but in this scenario the LPGA would be the only live golf on Mondays and Tuesdays and, therefore, could command longer and better broadcast windows on the Golf Channel. Majors could still finish on Sundays to placate the bigger TV networks but shifting the other competition days seems like a no-brainer.

Why are pros still wearing metal spikes when NO ONE else can? Name one course worth its salt that allows regular people to wear them. [email protected]_Otto

Now that we can all tap down spike marks it will be interesting to see if metal spikes make a comeback. But, as you note, course operators will first have to change their thinking and/or policy. But I think soft spikes are more comfortable, and since I’m not swinging at 130 miles, I don’t need the extra traction of metal spikes. Neither do you.

Is this finally Rickie’s year? -William (@VolHawk411)

Alas, no.

What is your favorite area to play in the U.S? The Monterey Peninsula is not eligible. [email protected]

Bandon. There are sooo many great courses on Long Island, but they skew toward uptight and obnoxiously private. I much prefer to chop it up at Bandon.

When will the beer cart girls start selling weed? Or edibles? Talk about slow play! [email protected]

This is actually a fantastic way to support public courses – if they can get away with $8 beers, imagine the profits that can be cleared on this new generation of “swing aids.” As long as the money gets reinvested in lower greens fees, better course conditions and nicer range balls, I say puff and chew away!