Persnickety Rules Would Make Golf a Game for Fussbudgets

The people who think up the rules of golf must be really weird.  You might recall the controversy over a couple of odd penalties Tiger Woods took last year. Now, Rory McIlroy has been hit with a bizarre “infraction.” The ruling cost him two strokes, setting him back a couple of places on the Abu Dhabi leader board going into the final round.

The experts on the Golf Channel explained what happened this morning, and I was left shaking my head. What absolute nonsense!

You see, according to the wizened 24-handicappers who think up these ridiculous rules, when you take a free drop it’s quite different from a penalty drop. I know, if you don’t play golf, I must sound like I’m talking some foreign language. But, trust me, there are free drops and penalty drops in golf. When your ball is in an area that is “under repair,” you get a free drop. But if you shank your ball into a pond, you pay a one-shot penalty.

Now, here’s the tricky part. If you are taking a penalty, you can stand inside the line they draw around the pond. But, if you get a free drop, you cannot breach the line marking the area from which you’re getting “relief” (no kidding, that’s what they call it – relief).

Apparently, McIlroy was getting a free drop and his left heel inadvertently got inside the line.  It cost him two strokes and could cost him the tournament. And with a purse of $2.7 million, the difference between first prize and – say – fourth is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Golf is quirky enough without crazy rules. You’re trying to hit a ball that’s less than an inch in diameter with a club face that’s about the same size. The slightest deviation in the angle at which the club connects with the ball sends it wildly off-line. Winston Churchill summed it up this way: “Golf is a game whose aim is to hit a very small ball into an even smaller hole, with weapons singularly ill-designed for the purpose.”

And most of us duffers would agree with him.

If the pooh-bahs who think they control golf worldwide had any marketing smarts, they would try to make the game easier, not more arcane. Yet these people seem stuck in a time warp where you still wear plus-fours on the golf course. Why don’t they change the sticks that hold up the flags marking the holes, for example? You might recall that Tiger Woods hit a flagstick during last year’s Masters and his ball rebounded  into a pond. It probably cost him another major title. That and the two-stroke penalty he was assessed for one of those quirky ball-dropping infractions.

Why have flagsticks that send your ball flying any which way if you hit them? With the array of space-age materials available, you would think the golfing gurus could come up with something less treacherous. Why penalize a perfect shot?

Millions of people play golf, and I bet most of them would be amazed to learn some of the rules they’re supposed to follow. I often see golf partners “grounding” their club in a sand trap and taking a preferred lie in the rough, and I don’t say a word. Why spoil their fun?

Yesterday, I played with a couple from Liverpool. They’re longtime golfers and hit the ball quite nicely. But the lady placed her ball on a tee for every fairway shot. She didn’t care for the texture of the Florida turf, I guess. Did I complain? Of course not.

I just said, “Nice shot!”

We were having fun and that’s what matters.

Click for McIlroy’s rules infraction.

Click for more on Tiger’s rules violations.