2002: These rules of golf really mean something

As anyone who has ever teed up a Titleist probably knows, the Official Rules of Golf as published by the U.S. Golf Association is an extensive and often confusing compendium of information that is best described as the sporting world’s version of “Beowulf”. Few people actually have read it, and only a fraction of those few really understand what any of it means.

The rest of us golf stiffs are left to discern the intricacies of stroke and distance and what truly is closer to the hole. And it is not beyond a few members of that caste also to wonder why anyone would want to put together such an incomprehensible volume, as well as the 1,000-page companion that outlines what players should or should not do in a variety of on-course situations. After all, the game is hard enough without having to decipher language so confusing and ponderous it would put a speed freak to sleep.

The other issue many people have with the official rules is that they are incomplete, not only because they don’t cover every possibility, but also because they are much more geared to serious tournament play than the weekend games the vast majority of us try to enjoy. That has prompted some duffers to create their own regulations that they believe should be followed as religiously as those promulgated by golf’s governing body.

Music legend and golf fanatic Willie Nelson is among those who have gone that route, and he has laid down his laws at the nine-hole layout he owns outside Austin, Texas. Par, for example, is whatever Willie shoots on that particular day. And he has even gone so far as to post his own list of edicts outside the pro shop. One states that no bikinis, miniskirts or sexually explicit attire be worn by any golfers except women. And another asserts there is no such thing as a lost ball because sooner or later someone will find that ball and put it back into play.

Several people around my home course have been similarly inspired in recent months and come to me with other rule proposals, many of which come from e-mails circulating on the subject. Following are a few of my favorites:

Never try to keep more than 300 separate thoughts in your mind during your swing.

When your shot has to carry over a water hazard, you can either hit one more club or two more balls.

If you are afraid that a full shot might reach the green while the group ahead is still putting out, you can either 1) immediately shank a lay-up or 2) wait until the green is clear and top a ball halfway there.

The less skilled a player, the more likely he is to share his ideas about the golf swing.

If it ain’t broke, try changing your grip.

Everyone replaces a divot after a perfect approach shot. A golf match is usually a test of your skill against your opponent’s luck.

It is surprisingly easy to sink a 50-foot putt when you lie 10.

Counting on your opponent to inform you when he breaks a rule is like expecting someone to make fun of his own children.

Nonchalant putts count the same as chalant putts.

It is not a gimme if you are still away.

The shortest distance between two points on a golf course is a straight line that passes directly through the center of a very large tree.

There are two kinds of bounces: unfair bounces, and bounces just the way you intended to play them.

Every time a golfer makes a birdie he must subsequently make two double bogeys to restore the fundamental equilibrium of the universe.

Don’t buy a putter until you have had a chance to throw it.

If there is a ball on the fringe and another in the bunker, yours is the one in the bunker.

If both balls are in the bunker, yours is the one in the footprint.

However, a ball you can see 50 yards away in the rough is not yours.

You can put “draw” on the ball, and you can put “fade” on the ball. But you cannot put “straight” on a ball.

Hazards attract; fairways repel.

To calculate the pace of a player’s downswing, multiply the speed of his backswing by his handicap. Example: backswing 20 mph, handicap 15, downswing 300 mph.

There are two things you can learn by stopping your backswing at the top and checking the position of your hands: how many hands you have, and which hand is wearing the golf glove.

You can hit a 2-acre fairway 10 percent of the time and a 2-inch branch on a tree 90 percent of the time.

Now, if only we could get the USGA to sign off on those.

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