One thing that I noted from watching golf this year is that the rules of golf are not as simple and "fair" as one would expect.
We saw Tiger Woods get nailed on a couple of occasions milking the rules in his favor, and on a couple others where they smacked him in the forehead.
Over the years I have come to believe that those golfers playing for big dollars are given a better set of rules under which to play.
Year ago at The Masters Ernie Els cranked his drive on the 11th hole a good 30 yards into the trees. I think he needed a flashlight to find it; the shade was so dark at those depths. Yet, when he found his ball, resting comfortably under a pile of limbs he decided he needed relief. He tried to move the limbs but couldn't uncover his ball without moving it and incurring a penalty. He asked for a ruling, suggesting to officials that the pile was debris that the club had piled there with the intention of moving it at a later date. Anyone who knows anything about Augusta National will tell you that they don't simply leave stuff piled around.
The first two officials on the scene denied Els' request and told him to play the ball as it lie. Els wanted yet another opinion and finally got the club's Competition Chairman to agree with him. The drop saved Els from having to return to the tee and hit his third shot from there.
I can just see me asking my playing partners the following question this coming weekend.
Me: "Hey guys, I'm going to need to move my ball without penalty. It's buried under a bunch of old, dead limbs."
Them: "Who said that? Where are you?"
Me: "Over here in the forest. I'm stuck under these trees with squirrels throwing acorns at me."
Them: "Are you nuts? You hit it in there, you hit it out! And don't move it or anything else to help you."
Then their laughter would fill the air.
My question: Why should someone playing as a professional, with over a million dollars riding for first place, get relief if I can't?
The PGA Tour runs ads all over the print media and on television with the slogan, "These guys are good." Well if they're so good, what are they doing hitting tee shots into the woods? And if they really good, I want to see them hit it out.
Instead we get five minutes of whining and pacing and walkie-talkie conversations that ultimately allow a player to move his ball. Els benefited from some serious Southern Hospitality that day.
I remember a sudden death playoff between Stewart Cink and Ted Purdy at the MCI Heritage at Harbor Town. Many golf fans sat stunned in their Lay-Z-Boys as Cink improved his lie in a waste area.
On the fifth hole of their playoff, Cink hit his tee shot into the waste bunker along the 16th hole's left side. As he walked to his ball he asked Slugger White, head rules official for the PGA Tour, what his options were in the waste area. Slugger informed Cink that he was allowed to remove loose impediments such as rocks and pebbles, leaves and such.
What Cink wound up doing was something that many fans felt was not only a sad interpretation of the rules, but cheating. He proceeded to tidy up the area behind his ball. He plucked little stones from the area and tossed them aside. The he proceeded to do what one cannot do no matter where you are on the golf course. He improved his lie. I watched in dismay as Cink ran his fingers behind the ball creating a nice little trough, effectively teeing his ball up. It made it very easy to get his club on the ball, control the distance and spin and knock the ball close enough to make a birdie putt and win the tournament.
The one that kills me during a tournament is when the pros get a free drop from under a bush or a tree because there is a television cable running nearby. Or they have a temporary, immovable obstruction, such as a sign or grandstands in their way and get free relief from having to hit around, over or through them. You hit it there, suffer the consequences. They don't put those things in the middle of the fairway!
Every sport needs rules to govern its play. Knowing how the rules work and using their interpretation to your advantage to gain any edge they allow is commendable. That doesn't mean that we should stray from the spirit of the rules or continue to allow rules to be bent beyond their intention.
Golf's first rule is, "Play it as it lies." I guess this only pertains to those of us not playing for millions of dollars.
James Stammer has been an avid golfer and golf enthusiast for nearly 40 years. He hosts the Thursday Night Golf Show on WSTU 1450-AM. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.