10 Golf Controversies Of 2019

It has been a controversial start to the year to say the least...

It has been a controversial start to the year to say the least...

10 Golf Controversies Of 2019

Golf has got off to a rocky start in 2019 with the new Rules perhaps not having the desired affect, player disqualifications and misdemeanours, caddie pay arguments, slow play criticisms and much more.

Below, in no particular order, we take a journey though the first two months of 2019 and 10 big controversies seen out on Tour from Haotong Li to Sergio Garcia to Matt Kuchar and Dustin Johnson...

10 Golf Controversies Of 2019

1) Haotong Li - Dubai Desert Classic

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Haotong Li was the first player to be penalised over the new caddie line-up Rule after his bagman stood behind him prior to his final putt of the tournament.

Li was docked two strokes and went from 3rd to 12th, missing out on around $100k in the process.

European Tour Chief Executive Keith Pelley admitted that the penalty was correct when applied to the Rules, but said that it was "grossly unfair".

R&A Chief Executive Martin Slumbers also reacted to the penalty, calling it "correct".

Read More: Haotong Li penalty leaves Tour Pros fuming

2) Denny McCarthy - Waste Management Phoenix Open

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The American was also docked two strokes for the same Rule at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, although his was later rescinded by the PGA Tour and led to a change in the Rule.

McCarthy was hitting a pitch shot and his caddie stood behind him, although he then walked off and McCarthy backed off the shot.

This didn't matter as backing off only avoided a penalty on the putting green, not in the general area.

This whole scenario led to the R&A and USGA releasing two clarifications on the Rule.

Read More: R&A and USGA forced to backtrack on caddie alignment Rule

3) Adam Schenk - Honda Classic

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Schenk was docked two strokes at the Honda Classic after his caddie was stood behind him whilst he was setting up for a greenside bunker shot.

This angered Justin Thomas on Twitter and led to the USGA tweeting him that they need to talk.

It could potentially lead to some Rules being changed, as Justin Thomas has already described the Rules as "terrible".

4) Rickie Fowler - Waste Management Phoenix Open

(Photo by Ben Jared/PGA TOUR)

Fowler was leading the Waste Management Phoenix Open when he had to take a drop after hitting his 3rd shot into a greenside penalty area (water).

Fowler took his knee-height drop and then walked up the bank towards the green, by which time his ball had rolled back into the water.

This cost him an extra stroke and almost lost him the tournament as it turned his double-bogey into a triple-bogey.

Read More: Fowler gets harsh penalty at Phoenix Open

5) Sergio Garcia - Saudi International

The Spaniard was disqualified for 'serious misconduct' during round three of the Saudi International.

Garcia had allegedly damaged five greens, four by dragging his shoe across them and one by making a divot mark with his putter.

Players in the groups following Garcia complained to Rules officials and he was DQ'd after his round.

A video from the previous day of Garcia taking his anger out on a bunker went viral.

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Surprisingly, he didn't receive any further European Tour bans.

He then revealed a few weeks later that he had received "emotional, personal news" prior to the Saudi International.

6) Bryson DeChambeau - Dubai, Genesis, WGC-Mexico

Slow play

The Golfing Scientist won his first European Tour title at the Dubai Desert Classic but received criticisms for his slow play, particularly his long pre-shot routines where he and his caddie discussed things like air density.

This led to Brooks Koepka saying on the Golf Monthy Clubhouse Podcast: “I just don’t understand how it takes a minute and 20 seconds, a minute and 15 to hit a golf ball; it’s not that hard. Guys are already so slow it’s kind of embarrassing. I just don’t get why you enforce some things and don’t enforce others.”

“Trust me, we do our due diligence to speed up and do our best," DeChambeau said.

"We’re not trying to slow anyone down. I’m not trying to slow anyone down. It’s just a part of the process, and unfortunately the Rules of Golf allow for a certain amount of time, and we’re (using it) to our fullest potential.”

Related: DeChambeau responds to slow play criticisms


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DeChambeau was involved in another controversy a month or so later when videos emerged of him hacking at a bunker at the Genesis Open before slamming his putter down on a practice green at the WGC-Mexico Championship.

DeChambeau publicly apologised, saying that he is an extremely passionate player and is always "working on ways to be better".

7) JB Holmes - Genesis Open

Holmes won the Genesis Open at Riviera but, like DeChambeau in Dubai, he was criticised for his slow play.

Conditions were tough but the final group was excruciatingly slow, with a video of Holmes taking over minute over a putt circulating on social media.

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"You play in 25 mph gusty winds and see how fast you play when you’re playing for the kind of money and points and everything that we’re playing for," he responded.

“You can’t just get up there and whack it when it’s blowing that hard."

8) LPGA Tour backstopping - Honda LPGA Thailand

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Backstopping has been a small issue over the past year or so but perhaps the worst case of it was seen on the LPGA Tour where Amy Olson and Ariya Jutanugarn fist-bumped after Olson hit the ball of Jutanugarn with a chip shot.

Jutanugarn asked Olson if she'd like her ball marked, which was very close to the hole, but Olson said no and went on to advantageously use it to stop her ball before the pair fist-bumped.

The LPGA Tour stuck up for the players and Olson categorically denied any wrongdoing, explaining that she was merely speeding up play by not requesting the ball to be marked.

She received criticisms and was labelled a cheat on social media, and described the days after as“some of the hardest I’ve had to go through.”

Related: Amy Olson responds to backstopping claims

9) Matt Kuchar - Mayakoba Golf Classic (November 2018), Controversy went public in 2019

Matt Kuchar was involved in a huge social media storm after allegations that he had paid his stand-in caddie just $5,000 following his $1.3m Mayakoba Golf Classic victory.

It turned out that those numbers were correct and interviews with the caddie, aka 'El Tucan' and Kuchar made things much worse for the 10-time PGA Tour winner, with Kuchar describing the $5,000 payment as a good week for someone on $100-$200 a day.

El Tucan, it was revealed, turned down an offer of $15,000 later after the tournament and when Kuchar was put under huge pressure after those 'good week' comments, he paid El Tucan the full amount requested (believed to be $50k) and also donated to the Mayakoba charities.

Read More: Kuchar releases statement - "That is not who I am and not what I want to represent"

10) Dustin Johnson - WGC-Mexico

Dustin Johnson was being chased down by Rory McIlroy during the final round of the WGC-Mexico Championship when he hit his tee shot on the 5th hole directly behind a tree.

It looked like McIlroy would close the gap by a further stroke.

However, DJ used the Rules to his advantage as there was a path nearby which he could get his foot on, allowing him a free drop out sideways and a clear-ish shot to the green.

He hit the green in regulation and two-putted for par.

The controversy was that his stance that included his right foot on the path was a very wide stance for what was a 10 yard chip out sideways.

He also had the ball very far forward in his stance for a shot that you'd usually play towards the back foot.

It had a huge effect on the final round, killing off McIlroy's momentum which led to DJ strolling home for victory and his sixth WGC title, also propelling him back to World No.1.

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Elliott Heath
News Editor

Elliott Heath is our News Editor and has been with Golf Monthly since early 2016 after graduating with a degree in Sports Journalism. He manages the Golf Monthly news, features, courses and travel sections as well as our large Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. He covered the 2022 Masters from Augusta National as well as four Open Championships on-site including the 150th at St Andrews. His first Open was in 2017 at Royal Birkdale, when he walked inside the ropes with Jordan Spieth during the Texan's memorable Claret Jug triumph. He has played 35 of our Top 100 golf courses, with his favourites being both Sunningdales, Woodhall Spa, Western Gailes, Old Head and Turnberry. He has been obsessed with the sport since the age of 8 and currently plays at West Byfleet Golf Club in Surrey, where his handicap index floats anywhere between 2-5. His golfing highlights are making albatross on the 9th hole on the Hotchkin Course at Woodhall Spa, shooting an under-par round, playing in the Aramco Team Series on the Ladies European Tour and making his one and only hole-in-one at the age of 15 - a long time ago now!

Elliott is currently playing:

Driver: Titleist TSR4

3 wood: Titleist TSi2 HL

Irons: Mizuno MP-H4 3-iron, Mizuno MP5 4-PW

Wedges: Cleveland RTX ZipCore 50, 54, 58

Putter: Odyssey White Hot OG #5