PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – I feel for Akshay Bhatia.
The 16-year-old golfer from Wake Forest, N.C., deserved to be playing Thursday morning in the Round of 32. Nothing against his first-round opponent, Bradford Tilley, but Bhatia was sent home Wednesday at the U.S. Amateur because of an unfortunate rules violation made by his caddie – and that’s not right.
Bhatia’s caddie, local Chris Darnell, technically broke a rule when he accepted a cart ride from a volunteer after using the restroom as Bhatia played Pebble Beach’s par-5 14th hole. Bhatia, who also used the restroom but walked back, went on to make birdie while Tilley made par. However, a rules official informed Bhatia and Darnell of the violation.
Instead of Bhatia winning the hole and taking a 1-up lead, the match remained all square. Tilley went on to win the match in 19 holes.
“What can you do? I’ll have plenty of opportunities to play in this tournament, so I’m not too upset about it,” Bhatia told Golf Channel. “It’s just frustrating because I deserved to win that match. That wasn’t the outcome I wanted, but I can’t do anything about it.”
The USGA states that “as a general rule, players and their caddies must walk the course at USGA Championships and at most qualifying rounds.” But there are instances when caddies can receive rides without their players being penalized, usually when a rules official approves it.
Darnell told Golf Channel that the opposing caddie received a ride from a USGA official earlier in the round, so when he saw a man wearing USGA apparel in a cart on the 14th hole, he thought nothing of it.
The USGA used to have a walking official with every match, but now there are just rovers. And while players and caddies were reminded about this rule before the tournament, in the middle of a match how is a caddie supposed to distinguish a volunteer from a rules official when they’re wearing similar clothing? Especially when he asks the volunteer and the volunteer says OK.
Shouldn’t the USGA let volunteers know of this rule, too? Or at least dress them differently. Or just ban cart rides all together, so there is no gray area.
Now, I don’t like this rule for caddies in the first place. Yes, players should be required to walk. In the U.S. Amateur, once Sunday arrives fitness and endurance will be important factors in who wins. But caddies?
The USGA has this rule to make sure players don’t receive an advantage over their opponents. How is a caddie taking a short cart ride back from the restroom giving a player an advantage? For an organization that stresses pace of play, this should be encouraged.
Instead, a talented young golfer is headed home, not because he didn’t play well enough, but because of an unfortunate penalty that frankly, if we’re talking common sense, shouldn’t be.