When to Play the Lie
Respecting the Rule Book is Fine, but Sometimes It Surpasses Ridiculous
I watched a youtube video the other day that in terms of logic, was an absolute horror. Somehow, a young golfer got out onto a frozen lake or large pond, where his golf ball sat. His intent, of course, was to go out there and play it, regardless of the insane lie. From a casual observer’s point of view, the ice didn’t look all that thick. It didn’t have that deep whiteness of thick ice, more of that watery color that makes ice skaters say, “We’d better wait a few more days.” It appeared as though avoiding the penalty strokes was in his mind, although he’d already incurred those anyway, just from hitting it out there. I must admit, though, that for a sheet of ice, the lie looked pretty good. Beside the first mistake of being out there, his second error was in taking a full swing, one in which his feet couldn’t possibly hang on. Of course, he collapsed in a tangle, hitting the ice with a thud, breaking it, and falling in. The ball? It didn’t move.
I know that we’re supposed to play the game by the USGA rules, even if they are the same for the professionals who really know how to do this golf thing. In our fevered golf brains, we’ll do almost anything to avoid that penalty stroke, which includes playing a lie that defies logic – and it doesn’t have to involve ice. For starters, skip all the animal heists – a seagull flew off with it, a toad ate it (yes, there’s a photo, and he’s huge. He might have eaten it). Squirrels in the tree? Forget it. Look at the actually lie.
In one popular photo, the ball rests on an iron gate. Sorry, USGA, if I payed a good price for those clubs, I don’t care what your rulebook says. I’m not going to scrape or break them on a slab of iron. When I’m in contention at the Masters, you can assess me whatever penalty you like. A squirrel doesn’t have to be involved. It isn’t all that uncommon for a ball to sit in a tree. The photo I saw, however, wasn’t one of those warm fuzzy ones that make good Christmas trees. It was one of those Australia outback thorny things, or perhaps out in the rough on some prickly Arizona course. They’ll stick you just by getting within ten feet. I don’t know how they do it, but they do it.
I saw another photo of a ball lodged in a wet concoction of mud and grass, in a completely vertical embankment. Now, there are videos to instruct you on how to hit a shot above or below one’s feet, but what about a lie that’s over one’s head? If I bring a baseball bat, isn’t that too many clubs in the bag for the USGA? Forget about it. I’m taking it down from there, and I’m not taking the penalty, so there. Completely submerged under the sand, to the point that I had to touch it in order to find it? Same – don’t worry, course Marshalls, I’ll clean up afterward. If the lie is in water, but less than half submerged with more ball out than in, I’m surprised to learn that it’s not necessarily a penalty. But if I’m in alligator country, it’s coming out of there, as fast as I can retrieve it.
I live in the Pacific Northwest, and often play courses that are not the playgrounds for the rich and famous. They have holes and divots and nooks and crannies that wouold make Augusta shriek. They have wild areas with no need of stakes, because nobody in his right mind would go in there for any reason, even armed. The USGA doesn’t hold much stock when I’m chipping around in cougar country trying to find a friendly fairway. In my lifetime, I’ve found my ball in the front seat of a car, a child’s sand bucket at the beach, and underneath a tee box marker. My problems with lie suggest that I should write an autobiography on it. The whole point is, if your most important fantasies involve your scorecard when you play, save your life from drowning, lion stalking, nettles, poison ivy and being eaten alive. Break off your loyalty oath to the temple of golf. Don’t take the stroke, play winter rules, and go home with at least a little of your dreams intact. I won’t tell – I promise.