Stacy Lewis goes into Sunday’s final round of the LPGA Founders Cup in Phoenix trailing leader Ai Miyazato by three strokes.   A victory would give her the Rolex No. 1 ranking.  But for a mishap by her caddie which resulted in a 2-stroke penalty, Lewis would trail by only a shot.

It is rare for an act of a caddie to result in a penalty, but it happened yesterday on the par-4 16th hole after Lewis drove into a fairway bunker.  Her caddie, Travis Wilson, entered the bunker, apparently to evaluate Lewis’ lie.  She proceeded to skull the shot over the green, but saved par with a good pitch.  Or so she thought.

Television viewers contacted the Golf Channel, questioning whether Wilson impermissibly tested the condition of the hazard by digging into the bunker with his feet in violation of Rule 13-4.  After the round, Lewis and Wilson reviewed replays of the incident with LPGA rules officials, who determined that a violation did in fact occur.   Reportedly, Lewis could be heard on the videotape questioning the depth of the sand while Wilson was in the bunker.

Rule 13-4 provides that, before making a stroke at a ball in a hazard, the player may not “test the condition of the hazard or any similar hazard.”   If a caddie breaches a rule, the player incurs the appropriate penalty.   Generally, the term “test the condition of the hazard” covers all actions by which the player could gain more information about the hazard than could be gained by taking her stance for the stroke to be made.   (See Decision 13-4/0.5)

The rules recognize that, when taking a stance in a bunker, it is necessary to dig the feet into the sand to a certain extent.   However, it is not permissible to dig into the sand in excess of what would be done for a stroke or practice swing.

It appeared to rules officials that Wilson dug and twisted his foot into the sand in an effort to gain some knowledge about the condition of the bunker.   In an interview after the round, Lewis professed ignorance of any such strategy, but did not contest the decision of the officials.   “I didn’t see Travis do anything when we were playing.  I wasn’t looking at his feet, obviously,” said Lewis.   “So we looked at the video and you have to slow it down, zoom in on his foot.  He walks into the bunker, he kind of pushes, he kind of bounces his knees a little bit and his foot turns.  His foot turned and you kind of hear the sand crunch a little bit.  So that’s deemed to be testing the sand.”

Lewis was supportive of her caddie.  “More than anything, I just feel bad for him because he feels awful,” said Lewis.  “But he’s the best caddie out here, so we’ll be fine.  We still have a chance to win tomorrow.”

Fortunately, rules officials were able to notify Lewis of the potential penalty before she signed her scorecard.  Otherwise, she would have been disqualified had she reported a par, rather than a double bogey, for the 16th hole.   “The good part is that we got it before the cards were turned in, so I can still play tomorrow and we have a chance to win,” said Lewis.

Caddies typically enter bunkers to rake the sand after their players make a stroke, but normally not beforehand.   The tough lesson learned by Wilson yesterday:  it is probably best to stay out of the bunker until after the player plays the shot.