Non-golfers have an arrogant hierarchy of existence. Right on top, is, let’s just call it a celestial presence, that looks over the world; below that lie humans, and below them, lie all other living things on this planet. Now I’m not trying to exclude golfers from the follies of their species, but the trials and tribulations of their lives are written, literally, not by divine providence but, by a set of nameless, faceless gents they’ll never get to meet. In the United States that’s the United States Golf Association, and for the rest of us, it’s the hallowed and ‘Royal & Ancient.’ Subtle.
Now these people, for their collective wisdom and experience, are entrusted with being the keepers and protectors of the game’s holy book — The Rules. Unrelenting and often cruel, golfing history is littered with instances of players falling afoul of some archaic guideline, and being suitably chastised. Not just that, golfers are also expected to —in line with the spirit and history of the game —stoically bear the consequences of their infraction. Taken it on the chin, so to speak.
Then there are cowboys who won’t play by The Rules. You know them all too well; you might be unlucky to have one in your weekly four ball. These blokes are can completely oblivious to social censure; impervious to the lowered heads and indistinct mutterings that seem to fill the chaining rooms when they enter. I’ve met a few in my life—bonafide 18-handicappers who’ll frequently break 80 at club championships, or possess supernatural abilities to extract them-selves from the rough, and yet, are inexplicably challenged when it comes to counting strokes. When caught these people show complete commitment in the power of absolute denial. You’d think people like these wouldn’t go very far in their pursuit of the game. But they do, in fact one made it all the way to becoming the leader of the free world. Another, Patrick Reed, who plays on the PGA Tour, is another brazen interloper. Reed was at the centre of a social media storm a few weeks back for picking up and replacing his ball claiming it was ’embedded.’ Even though that wasn’t the case he got away with it.
Since The Rules assume that the player has the integrity to call a penalty on himself, it makes sense for all of us to go beyond just a rudimentary understanding; at the very heart of the amendments that were bestowed upon us in 2019 by the governing bodies of the game, was to make the game easier and just insert some common sense into a few of the hackneyed concepts we were expected to abide by.
Start with these: the most humane amendment was aimed at giving us a break, literally, on the greens. Now, if you accidentally hit your ball on the green, whether it’s while taking a backswing, or even if you happen to kick it then it can be replaced to the original spot without penalty. Same goes for the ball marker. If this rule had come into effect in 2016, then Dustin Johnson would have won the US Open. You can also repair spike marks on the green, shoe damage, or any indentations caused by the flagstick, or critters on the green. Keep in mind that you still can’t fix natural wear around the hole.
What’s the most embarrassing shot you’ve ever hit? Mine was a from a fairway bunker in which the shaft broke and travelled twice as far as the ball. But a fluffed double-hit chip comes a second close. Taking pity on players who manage to accidentally engineer this shot (it’s almost impossible to hit on purpose) , the Rules were changed. That magnanimity also extends to poor sods who hit their ball into impenetrable undergrowth, rough and the like in which the ball is hard to spot. In case you happen to step on your ball while looking for it in the thick stuff then you can replace it in the place you found it without penalty.
You can touch the ground with your practice swing in all penalty areas (that now include water hazards) and, even more critically, when playing from places where you risk damaging your club, you can remove loose impediments like stones as long as doing that doesn’t move your ball. The one I really like is the amendment concerting free drops; if you’re taking relief on account of a sprinkler head of an ‘abnormal’ course condition that interferes with your stance or swing then you can drop it within one club-length, even if that improves your lie. That could potentially mean you playing from the fairway instead of the rough, or the green instead of the fringe.
And the ’embedded’ rule that Reed used is meant to claim relief in case the ball gets plugged (anywhere on the course except the bunker) on account of the ground being wet. If the ball has bounced, as replays of Reed’s shot clearly showed it had, then it cannot be ’embedded.’
Are these amendments subject to manipulation? Of course they are, but here’s the rub, and it cuts both ways. ‘Player intent’ is the premise that’s now been introduced to curb such infractions. For me that calls into question the integrity and conduct expected of everyone who plays this game. Questions of honour are difficult… can become confused and abstruse, and golf has always set high standards for those who play it. That’s why, wanton cheaters will never be remembered for their successes, but people are unlikely to forget their failings to play in the spirit of the game.
A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game
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