AUGUSTA, Ga. — Golf has all sorts of rules. And golf takes those rules seriously.
One of them is USGA Rule 10-2a, which states, in part:
During a round, a player must not:
This may seem like a strange rule but it is designed to stop one player from asking another player what club he hit or how hard he swung since gaining that information on, say, how the wind is blowing would be an unfair advantage against all the other golfers since they would not have had said info.
Seems simple. In the case of the l’affaire Masters 2023, it’s extremely complicated, or at least a case that isn’t easy to crack. The Masters Tournament Committee has been working on it for two days and golf fans are analyzing video of the incident like it’s golf’s Zapruder film.
As such, we are here to help.
On the 15 hole Thursday, Gary Woodland’s second shot sat 209 yards from the pin. One of his playing partners, Brooks Koepka, was 231 away. Koepka was 4-under at the time. Woodland was 2-under.
Koepka, of course, hit first, drilling a five iron onto the green.
In video just after the shot, it appears Koepka’s caddie, Ricky Elliott, mouthed (or said) the word “five” to Woodland’s caddie Brennan “Butchy” Little. Augusta questioned everyone about that on Thursday. On Friday, the committee also questioned Koepka, who may have flashed five fingers to Little (or Woodland) while beginning to remove his glove.
If either act was done, then Koepka would be subject to a two-stroke penalty. He currently leads the tournament at 12-under, with Jon Rahm in second place, three strokes back as second round play was suspended due to inclement weather.
Woodland hit the green with his second shot and said he hit a five iron to do it.
The case that everyone is guilty
The most compelling evidence is that it sure looks like Elliott said “five.” And just after Elliott mouthed something, Koepka flashed fingers. And, of course, everyone used a five iron.
If that’s all a coincidence, it’s a heck of a coincidence.
The case that everyone is innocent
Video can be deceiving. Elliott might not have been talking to Woodland’s caddie. Also, are we going to make golf rulings off of lip reading? Plus, everyone involved denies it was done.
“I think what they said was they were signaling to somebody else or he was signaling to somebody of what it was,” Koepka said on Thursday. “It wasn’t Butchy.”
Sometimes caddies or players let reporters for the television broadcast know what they hit or are going to hit.
After closing the issue Thursday, Masters officials on Friday again questioned Koepka, this time about the five fingers he flashed, which Koepka immediately dismissed.
“I don’t know if you’re supposed to take your glove off with your fist closed or what now,” he said.
Additionally, since Woodland was sitting 22 yards closer to the pin, he probably wouldn’t have hit the same club that Koepka hit. In other words, had Woodland known Koepka hit a five, then he likely would have hit a six because it doesn’t carry as far.
“At the end of the day, Brooks hit his shot on 15,” Woodland explained. “I asked Butchy if he saw what he hit. He said, ‘No.’ Luckily for us because Brooks ended up hitting 5-iron. I hit 5-iron. I asked Butchy what the club was [that Woodland should use], and he said, ‘It’s a choked-up perfect 5.’ I hit my shot.
“When we were walking down, I asked Brooks what he hit, and he said ‘5,’” Woodland continued. “If I would have known that, I probably would have hit 6-iron, and I would have hit 6-iron in the middle of the water. Luckily for me, I didn’t know what he hit. That’s the end of it.”
It is not against the rules to ask a player what club he hit after the fact.
Koepka agreed with that and said Woodland asking him what club he used was proof that no rules were broken.
“They asked us what we hit walking down the fairway, so they had no idea,” Koepka said. He added, “if he would have known we were hitting five, he would have hit six because I don’t think Gary is that short and he’s 10 in front of me, 12 in front of me.”
He was actually further than that, a full 22 yards.
Finally, there is a question of why Koepka would share information with Woodland, who is a competitor? It is certainly possible players would team up on stuff like this and try to help each other, but at the same time, only one of them can win the tournament and it’s not like one was in contention and the other out of contention.
They were just two strokes apart at that moment. Woodland finished the second round at 4-under.
“The last thing I’m going to do is give it to Gary Woodland, the U.S. Open champ,” Koepka argued.
Koepka’s argument that he was just taking off his glove is suspicious. You can certainly remove a golf glove without fully outstretching your fingers. That said, he might have just wanted to do it that way at the time. It could be a coincidence.
A lack of hard evidence, though, makes the case too much for the Masters to convict anyone. It looks sketchy, but it might not be. Taking two strokes away in a major championship should require more than that.
“Following the completion of Brooks Koepka’s round, the committee questioned his caddie and others in the group about a possible incident on No. 15,” the Masters said in a statement. “All involved were adamant that no advice was given or requested.
“Consequently, the committee determined that there was no breach of the rules.”