Wouldn’t that be fun to watch? Lift, clean and place to a more favorable lie without penalty. And, the bonus is that we wouldn’t need the anal, blue-coated rules officials to step in and make a bogus call about a ball allegedly shaking from the wind before striking a putt, or whatever it is that happened to Dustin Johnson to cause a one-stroke penalty, even though he clearly did nothing improper.
If golf needs anything these days, it needs levity. The game is difficult to master, and it seems no matter how many years you’ve been playing, you need a lawyer to interpret the rules. The Rules of Golf trace lineage to 1744, when the golfers of Leith, Scotland drew up 13 rules of play comprising just 338 words. In 1899, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews issued its first official code evolving in 1952 with the US Golf Association into a uniform world-wide policy. Decade by decade the rulebook grew and today it is a whopping 132 pages, comprising nearly 40,000 words.
No one I know feels sorry for Dustin Johnson, who has choked in five previous majors and has 10 wins and bankrolled over $30 million in career earnings, but everyone I know agrees that Johnson was the victim of a horrendous rules decision by the USGA. If the gods of golf were trying to balance the scales for Dustin Johnson, they sure picked a strange way to do it in the final round of the US Open. Only 12 months ago, Johnson infamously three-putted the final green at Chambers Bay from 12 –feet allowing Jordan Spieth to win.
And so it goes. The big boys make millions always abiding by and sometimes getting screwed by the rules of the game, but what about guys like Tim Geary, who has a swing like he’s raking a snake in his backyard. If his ball hits a sprinkler head and ricochets’ out of bounds, should he be allowed a replay? I say absolutely not and Rule No. 26 addresses freaky situations that can happen on a golf course. Here’s a guy who hasn’t won a $2 nassau in years, and now Mr. Geary is proposing to change the rules so he can take another shot, without penalty, if his shot hits an immoveable, man-made object such as a sprinkler head.
According to Rule No. 19 a sprinkler head is an outside agency and the deflection of a ball by it is a “rub of the green” and the ball must be played as it lies. One of my favorite golf expressions is “rub of the green.” In my experience the “rub of the green” can have a happy ending, but mostly it’s a wretched moment. The Official Duffer’s Rules of Golf, authored by John Noble, define “rub of the green” as a good excuse for hitting a bad shot. It also describes it as an opponent’s bad luck. Guess it depend on who’s on the receiving end.
Sprinkler heads around putting greens can sometimes lead to confusion as to whether we get relief and the rules state we get relief if our ball lies on or against the sprinkler head. You also get relief if it interferes with your stance. You may not take relief if the sprinkler head at the side of the green is in your line of play to the hole. And, under no circumstances do you get relief if there is mental interference, but no physical interference, for an intended stroke by a sprinkler head. Wow, imagine how long a round would take if you got relief for mental interference? Some people would never finish!
In sum, the rules say play the ball as it lies, but it sure would be a lot more fun to play winter rules in the summer!
Tom Gorman, a golf writer for over 20 years, has learned the hard-way of many of the rules, which means he’s been called on it.