Golf’s Maddening Rules

Golf’s Rules Costs Strokes

Losing Strokes to ‘Outside Agents’

After years, and particularly the past few weeks, of watching penalty strokes being assessed or not being assessed based on a variety of incidents, I’m starting to fray at the ends trying to understand  one’s responsibilities where the results of his game are concerned. For a second time in a year, a professional golfer of the PGA has addressed a ball on the green, only to have it mysteriously move through no actions of his own, but receieved penalty strokes anyway. Apparently when you make your intention known to strike a golf ball, even if you haven’t yet, there is a legal shift in responsibility, depending on whether you are deealing with the Supreme Being one animal or another, or a meteorological event dealing with rain, wind, or break of the grass. What I really mean is, you can get penalized for something that doesn’t have a thing to do with you. It’s all in the rules.

If a curious animal takes a liking to your ball, or if you strike one, it all depends on where it first makes contact. However, if your ball hits a fan in the gallery, hope for the head so it will carom twenty yards or so closer to the green – no penalty. If the ball falls off the tee, even when addressing the ball, you’re still safe, but if you enter your swing and it falls off, the fault is yours, even though it’s an act of God. It doesn’t matter that you were drawing the head of the club away from the ball. As soon as you meant to hit it, it became your responsibility. And why do we go to a golf course in the first place? To hit it, of course.  But, it’s in the rules.

golf's rulesA gust of wind will penalize you the same way, after you’ve addressed the ball. However, what if you address it, decide it doesn’t feel right, and step back to view the situation one more time? No dice – it’s still your penalty if it falls. There are even legalities about the way you need to stand. I saw a picture of Craig Stadler on his knees (on a blanket) trying to short-shaft a ball nestled up against a tree. He was penalized for “building a stance.” There’s a lot of creativity in the typical PGA mind, and it ought to be rewarded for finding new and ingenious ways with which to salvage a difficult situation. Not with these rules, it isn’t.

We all know, I hope, that if your partner or rival fails to pull out the flagstick when he or she promised in the event of a long sunk putt or short chip, it’s your penalty, two big ones. He can beat you just by being a horrible good sport. In some tournamnt play, start your round two minutes before your offiial time, even if instructed to do so, and it’s two strokes again. If a crow picks up the ball, then decides it’s too heavy and drops it a few inches away, return it to the original spot for a couple of strokes. And you thought you were doing the right thing. And another thing about your playing partner. Don’t give him or her any advice about a second tee shot after a hazard. It’s against the rules, under “giving advice.” To you, it’s being nice. To the course, it’s being a know-it-all.
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Take relief from ground under repair? Watch where you drop it. If it rolls back and puts your heels on the white line, two strokes, unless you realize it and stop in time – and who does that? Shoo an attracted animal from the ball, and accidentally hit it, it’s curtains for you. And here’s one of the most unbelievable rules of all! Did you know that a bird is an “outside agent,” but a butterfly is a “loose impediment?” At least the butterfly probably can’t move the ball, unless it’s one of those enormous yellow swallowtails we get in the Pacific Northwest.

In short, the golf course is not the place to go in order to take control of your destiny. You will be under the jurisdiction of Heaven, Nature, and the animal kingdom, with different results depending on which species you tangle with. You might as well just put it all in the stock market, and forget all those rules.
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