Jul 12

Golf’s Odd Rules

The Rules Of Golf Baffle Many of Us

Again, we witnessed an odd ending to a major event this week, when Anna Nordqvist, in the midst of a sudden death playoff, was coolly informed that she had lost the tournament a hole before. What was intended to be a gripping finale of an LPGA major was reduced to a whimper, when a television closeup saw a few grains of sand move under Nordqvist’s wedge as she addressed the ball. That handed the Women’s U.S. Open over to her competitor in the playoff over a discussion, rather than a golf shot. The rule that came into question is not a new one, and has always been with us.

trapI understand that the game of golf is finely regulated by a system of rules, and am grateful that at least on the professional level, adherence to them is so strict. Despite these kerfluffles that happen now and then, even those that truncate the apex of the action, it’s still better than week after week of “he says, she says” and constant complaints toward course marshalls. However, although I don’t dispute the rule of touching the sand with the wedge, I still wonder why we have it. The gist of the rule is that the player should not be able to “test” the condition of the sand before he or she experiences the actual shot. That means that the club must address the ball from above it, not like any other golf shot on the course. For a weekender, it’s a very weird feeling to hold the club face in an elevated position. As a weaker player, I always feel as though I’m going to top the ball, or miss it entirely. There isn’t a shot I hate more than the bunker shot. I suppose that resting the wedge on the sand could help dig a trench for a buried ball, but you still couldn’t get too close for fear of touching it and receiving a penalty.
The testing of the sand’s condition idea is somewhat at odds with other practices that are legal on the course. We certainly test the condition of the wind when we throw blades of grass into the air, but no one sees that as taking advantage of another player, or of the situation. The habit of “going to school” on another’s putt is certainly a mainstay of strategy. I guess that’s the price your rival pays for being away, having to be the teacher. We take the pin out when putting from the green, and can do either from just off. What is it about a putt that is rendered unfair by having struck the pin, but not so with a fringe shot? Once your signature goes on a scorecard to be submitted at the end of the round, that’s it. If you made a mistake, you’re disqualified from the tournament, even if you won it. Is that to avoid having to decide whether the player had intent to defraud the entire watching golf world? You can’t have someone say, “Hey Bob, I think you mis-calculated no. 4 – you bogied it.” Why doesn’t a separate person associated with the player carry a separate scorecard to compare with the first one to make sure everything’s all right before signing? But no, it’s just – “you’re out.”

At the root of it all, my question is really whether these features of the game evolved from a series of “Ok, let’s say it should be this way,” or do these rules really have powerful, time-tested justifications backing them up, justifications that have real meaning to the fairness of the game? Did they become truly necessary to guarantee fair play across the board, from tee to green?

All right then, rules are rules – but can we at least have a short-term statute of limitations, so a tournament doesn’t end an hour later without anyone firing a shot?
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