January 27, 2006
“I really didn’t need any more brutal proof that life is unfair.”
Most golfers will heartily agree with this statement. It’s something I’ve muttered to myself dozens of times over the years, especially during the less-than-inspiring rounds of golf I’ve sometimes had.
The folks at the United States Golf Association appear to be bound and determined to remind avid golfers of this harsh but fundamental element of their favorite sport.
The USGA periodically joins with the Royal & Ancient of St. Andrews, Scotland, and issues new revisions to the basic Rules of Golf, some of which are nearly demonic in their relentless approach to fair competition. In addition, each year golf’s guardians issue what they humbly describe as The Decisions on the Rules of Golf.
The Decisions usually resolve a specific fact situation implicating one or more rules, and show how to apply them to the particular circumstances. For those whose only exposure to the formal Rules was to read them once or twice, the Decisions can be a big help in comprehending how the Rules work together.
Some Decisions embrace a stern approach that can make one wonder how much ice runs through the veins of those issuing them. The 2006 collection, however, sometimes shows a genuine recognition of the role that equity can play in ameliorating some of the harsher provisions of the game’s regulations.
One of the more pleasing new Decisions involves a circumstance that I once observed here in the Cape Region (not to me—it was another guy).
A golfer’s tee shot takes off at a bad angle and hits a nearby tree. The ball bounces high in the air and lands back on the teeing area, where it embeds itself into the ground.
What to do?
The USGA’s answer begins with a remarkably deadpan statement: “[T]he Rules of Golf do not contemplate such a situation….”
The writers then explain that based on the equities of the case, the golfer can lift, clean, and drop the ball back onto the teeing ground, out of the embedded mark, but no closer to the hole. No penalty stroke is added to the score.
That first stroke still counts toward the total, of course. The golfer is now hitting stroke number 2 from nearly the exact same place. That seems like just enough of a penalty already, doesn’t it?
Sometimes the golf gurus will also follow the adage “No harm, no foul,” without actually using that phrase.
For example, another new decision deals with golfers who think they should use a little more than just a putting stroke to make the ball go into the hole. Suppose a golfer jumps up and down as the ball comes to rest at the edge of the cup. Despite the attempt at creating a teeny little man-made earthquake, nothing happens.
According to the USGA, there’s no rule violation here, either.
On the other hand, if the ball does fall in the hole, the penalties add up. If the ball was still moving when the golfer began jumping, under Decision 1-2/4 he loses the hole in match play. In stroke play, he earns two penalty strokes.
If the ball was at rest at the hole’s edge when the player began jumping, he earns a penalty stroke in both match and stroke play if the ball falls in. In addition, the ball must be taken out of the hole and put back where it was before all the stomping started.
I am deliberately using the word “he” in this scenario. This is because I have frequently seen male golfers try this stunt, and I have never seen any female golfer go this far to make a putt.
Even though there’s no penalty if the ball doesn’t move, there’s nothing wrong with pointing out to the jumping golfer that no one is interested in putting through the footprint depressions he’s just made on the green.
You can also congratulate him on not being quite as fat as you thought he was.
And that’s not actually a compliment.