Friday, February 25, 2005

"Pick It Up, It's Good"

I am now five days (and two snow storms) away from my trip to Tampa for golf and mischief with a couple dozen of my closest friends. Because the mere anticipation of playing golf triggers the release of endorphins to my brain, I am in a "getting psyched" mode, big time.

In a matter of days, I will be engaged in a three-day long "tournament," the terms of which will remain secret until our generous host and tournament director (and the holder of our cash money) decides who wins at the end. I know this man. I've seen him keep score before. He employs unusual math concepts. I haven't a chance.

So in honor of the upcoming festivities, I am reprinting a piece I wrote when the Ryder Cup was held at The Country Club in 1999. The piece was inconspicuously published in Panorama Magazine, the small pocket publication found in Boston hotel rooms during the event.

"Pick It Up"

I admit right off the bat that I’m not a big fan of rules. Oh, sure, I was brought up right and learned to follow the rules, probably more than most people. And, being a lawyer, I guess I still believe that rules are pretty important, since they keep our world from descending into anarchy (or at least slow it down).

Most of the time in our daily living, it’s pretty easy to follow the rules. And, on the occasions when we are forced by circumstances to actually think about them, the rules are pretty well spelled-out, and we have little trouble discerning the difference between what we should do and what we want to do (which we choose is a different matter).

But I have a big problem with the Rules of Golf: unlike any other tome of social regulation, by definition they denigrate 99% of us as non-golfers before we put a peg in the ground, just because we don’t know all the rules.

You read it right, non-golfer. I’ve been playing this infernal game for thirty-eight years, and the Rules tell me that I am not a golfer…

According to Rule 1-1: “The game of golf consists of playing a ball… into the hole…in accordance with the Rules.” We are not golfers until we have learned all of the nuances of the thirty-four rules that govern everything from the shape of a golf ball to the intention of a player when setting his feet in a sand trap.

Think for a minute. Do you play the “Game of Golf???”

Do you knock it away? Do you say, “that’s good,” or “pick it up” during the course of a round? Roll it over on the occasion of a particularly horrid lie, once in a while? According to the Rules, you’re no golfer.

Let’s lay it on the line: the Rules are no more sacred to the average golfer than the law against removing mattress tags. Is it absolutely essential to the preservation of the game that each one of us, before putting a ball on a peg, vows never to allow a gimmee?

What is the game of golf to us? Is it an exercise in personal discipline, a field test on the road to Rules mastery?

Hardly. The golf course is a refuge away from our spouses on which we can freely exhibit crass behavior, share politically incorrect jokes, speak of the opposite sex in socially inappropriate ways, and use foul language to excess. And that’s just the women among us! So, with so much of this really important business to conduct, what’s wrong with treating the game of golf the same way we treat the speed limit?

Imagine how much less fun the game would be if we complied strictly with Rule 1-3: “Players shall not agree to exclude the operation of any Rule or to waive any penalty incurred?”
This rule is fascist.

Imagine that you’re playing a one-day member-guest as the guest of your best customer. After seventeen holes of the best ball net format, your team stands at even par. After three teammates hit balls in the water off the tee, their hopes are piled high on your shoulders. You hit it onto the green, putting for birdie from thirty feet. You lag the putt up to eight inches. You approach the tap-in. (Now, everyone reading this is already saying to himself, “pick it up,” but we will not indulge such run-of-the-mill cheating). As you attempt to strike your ball, the wind gusts, moving the ball all of one-half inch, and you tap the moving ball. You miss, smack the ball into the greenside creek and storm off to the next tee.

Now, being civilized and compassionate people, your teammates will undoubtedly score a four (if not three) for you. After all, there’s no use in spoiling the cocktail hour. Good form, I say! Your President would be proud of you.

What purpose is served in penalizing you two strokes for not replacing the ball? Or in disqualifying the entire foursome, because either you all agreed to waive the operation of Rule 18, or you turned in an incorrect scorecard, not having finished the hole? Is this what you are on the golf course for? Of course not.

A round of golf is to most what the roller coaster ride is to the ten year old: a chance to feel the sun and wind on our faces, the thrill of the change in elevation and the danger of a wayward tilt; an opportunity to cast caution to the gods, to stretch back, arms aloft, and release the coil of energy in our bodies, feeling our exhilaration swiftly plunge to the depths as we watch yet another brand new Titleist plink into a green-fronting pond.

Let us not spoil the ride with all these silly rules which turn the experience into something akin to catechism class: Did you hole out on every green? Did you roll the ball out of a divot hole? Take a mulligan? Take a favorable drop outside of two club lengths? We must rap your knuckles!!!

I say, on behalf of all of us who like to follow reasonable rules most of the time, rewrite them! I have consulted with a number of high ranking members of the power elite (my drinking/golfing buddies), and we have begun the task of rewriting the rules to conform to the habits and practices of the majority of golfers. Here’s a look at a few of the rules that must be changed to restore our golfer status:

Rule 1-2 (Exerting Influence on Ball) prohibits a player from doing anything to influence the position or movement of the ball, even if it’s by accident. This rule is mean-spirited. In a civilized and forgiving society, nobody should be penalized for an honest mistake. You should not be penalized if you accidentally move your ball when trying, for instance, to pull twigs from under it in the woods.

You should also not be penalized if you do something that helps a playing companion. Today if your partner nukes a putt that is going to pass the hole and hit the prone flagstick, you may not move the flagstick, or you have violated Rule 1-2. This is very impolite. You should move the flagstick. After all, then it is more likely that he will assist you in your time of need.

Penalties under this rule should be reserved for the scoundrel who deliberately walks on your putting line or runs over your ball with his cart.

Rule 8 (Advice; Indicating Line of Play) prohibits a player from giving or getting advice to or from anyone except his/her partner. Now this is an insult to all gentlemen and ladies who wish during the course of a round to convey to their playing companions the depth of their superior ability and familiarity with the deep subtleties of the game. Alternatively, some people think that it is good sportsmanship to be of as much assistance as possible to one’s fellow competitors.
How often during a friendly round have you heard someone plaintively cry, “What am I doing wrong!?” after a topped, shanked or foozled shot? The current Rule requires that, in response to such a desperate query, we charge, “two shot penalty!” as if the poor dope has really done something wrong.

Anyone should be permitted to ask for as much advice as his companions are willing to impart. Only if the fellow players have made it unmistakably clear that they have no solution should a penalty be assessed, for it is plainly beyond the bounds of good form to continue pleading for aid in the face of abject resignation.

Conversely, it is just as rude to offer your expertise when it has not been sought. A golfer is free to lurch, slash and splay his way around the loop in his own inimitable way without having to hear such unsolicited and incomprehensible commands as “pronate your wrists more,” or “you’re coming off of it.” This point is particularly important on the putting green, where it is considered justifiable to assault a fellow golfer who has gratuitously complemented you with his unique (and dubious) ability to read your putts.

Rule 13 (Ball Played As It Lies, etc.) requires that the ball be played as it lies, and prohibits the player from altering the position, area of intended swing, or line of intended play. This means no preferred lies, and no moving, bending or breaking “anything growing” to get at or swing at the ball.

The problem with this rule is that the world is made up of two kinds of people: lucky and unlucky. One’s enjoyment of the game should not depend on whether his ball rolls into a divot hole or stops just short of it.

The game would be fairer (and safer) if the rule permitted any reasonable effort to improve the position or lie of the ball or the area of intended swing, short of damaging living flora. You should not be penalized if you wish to improve your lie (through the green, of course), so long as everyone else can do it. The way it is now, half the field is rolling it over anyway. Nowhere on the golf course can the conduct between the obedient and the scofflaw be more disparate than in the bushes and woods. Here, out of eyeshot from playing companions, the temptation to contort body parts and tree limbs to clear a path for the club head is more than most mortals can resist. Anything short of environmental degradation should be permitted, in order to encourage inventiveness, isometric exercise, and faster play.

Enabling everyone to roll it over puts all on equal footing, and makes the competition fairer.
A change in this rule would also improve safety and health. Preferred lies reduce the risk of a hand or wrist injury that may occur during an attempt to hit the ball from a difficult lie, or a head injury or puncture wound that may result from an anger-propelled club. And while we’re at it, we must take a long and careful look at the Rule which deems that a club broken in anger is not damaged “in the normal course of play,” and hence cannot be replaced. Clearly, this “normal” course of play differs greatly from that of many of my playing companions.

Rule 27 (Ball Lost or Out of Bounds; Provisional Ball) is the single biggest culprit behind the six hour round. Currently, we must first engage in the reviled search for the other guy’s ball, half-heartedly sauntering through knee-high hay or squishy bog, awaiting the owner’s consent to abandon search.

Seldom has he taken the precaution of hitting a provisional. Everyone knows that four out of five provisionals go right where the first one went or a mile in the other direction, and it’s unfair to put your friend to the pressure of it.

And no one should have to go back to the tee, because the group behind is already standing there, having assumed that “what the hell’s taking them so long” stance, one hand leaning on the club, the other on the hip.

To speed up the game, we must deal swiftly with the lost ball and provide an incentive for the woebegone golfer to abandon the ball after a very brief look. Any player willing to put a fork in it before it’s well done should be allowed to drop a ball in the middle of the fairway closest to where his ball was last seen and take an extra penalty stroke. So, for instance, if I drive out of bounds off the tee, I drop in the fairway parallel to the ball’s departure point, and lie 4.

Why? Because we’re looking at the handicap max for the hole, anyway!!! Why put the poor bastard through all the trouble if he’s just going to put down a 7? By permitting a drop in the middle, we are speeding up play, increasing enjoyment of the game and promoting truth in handicapping (now there’s a phantom concept!).

I have assembled a committee of amateurs to draft a set of new rules consistent with the foregoing philosophy. The committee has an average handicap of 15 and absolutely no experience in USGA sanctioned tournament play. We propose that the USGA commission us to draft The Rules of Golf For The Rest of Us, to apply to all amateur non-sanctioned play. To accomplish this task, we volunteer to occupy the outside deck overlooking the eighteenth at The Hyannisport Club, with an unlimited supply of trail mix and beverage. There, we will utilize the tools of common sense and mercy to compose a set of rules that all golfers can understand and follow without fear or guilt.

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?