What We Don’t Know About the Rules Might Amaze Us
Most of us have, without a doubt, run into the vast variety of quizzes available on the internet, and often spread on Facebook, that test our general world knowledge. We are tempted with “I’ll bet you can’t beat this score.” And, if you do, the creators of the quiz assure you that you are a genius, a luminary in the intellectual world. I surrender most easily to historical quizzes such as “Can you identify these world figures?” Since I am old enough to have personally experienced all of them, I am dubbed an expert. It can be forgiven if someone much younger doesn’t know them all, but for me, there’s no excuse. That is how I fell into the trap. It was a quiz to test the amateur golfer’s knowledge of the USGA’s book of rules. “Aha,” I thought, this is right up my alley. I’m going to ace this thing.
The shock was almost immediate. I successfully answered five of the first ten questions, and was way off on the other five. As my golfing life flashed before me, from childhood to this year, I remembered what a scant relationship I had forged with the rules of the game. If I were to play in a professional environment for a day, not only would my score be laughable, but I would inadvertently incur another twenty or so penalty strokes, just through being clueless (never mind the etiquette violations). The various levels of amateur golf have always played by codes that are preset as more or less strict. It comes down to whatever is agreed upon before the first tee. From mulligans and foot wedges to a ball falling off the tee or the distinct personality of a hazard, the rules have been so haphazardly kept that many of us entirely forgot the way it is really supposed to be played.
All right then, try this. How many relief options for a lateral water hazard do we have, with sticks and lines? I thought that one or two had to be the maximum, but no, the answer is five. That was hours ago, and I am still trying to think of all five possibilities. Don’t we have free relief from an out-of-bound fence if we are nestled right up next to it? Of course, I thought…wrongly. We will have to cope with the available geometry. What if we accidentally knock the ball off the tee if we were not intending to hit it in the first place? Oh, they’ve got us there. They won’t pass up the chance to give us a stroke. But no! The USGA is suddenly charitable. You get one more try. A stroke at the ball is the only one that counts. A penalty for hitting someone’s golf bag? My first thought, “Why did they leave it there? They should get the penalty.” Oh no, if I or any of my people hit it, my bad, my stroke. Going back to water, what about those two club lengths from where the ball crossed the hazard. Believe it or not, that’s not one of the options. What if the ball moves in the water while we are looking for it? No penalty. Can I remove loose impediments that are not connecting the ball and the same hazard? I can. Here’s one that caught me. If I hit someone else’s ball, and hole out with it, am I disqualified? No, but I have to take the two strokes. However, if I hit the same ball on the next tee, I’m out of there. And the final insult? Hit the flag stick, and have the ball get stuck there higher than the hole, I can’t take the score. I can take out the stick and reset the ball on the lip, but no story for the grandchildren at home.
The daunting thing is that those are only ten questions. The book is much longer than that, and the questions get tougher. The bottom line is that we don’t know our own game’s rules as well as we think we do…at least I don’t. I could study them and get them in my mind once and for all. Or, I could just go back to the Facebook quizzes where they think I’d make a pretty good nuclear physicist.