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Sunday, 9 July 2017

Bobby Jones on the Rules of Golf

I think Bobby Jones is the ultimate reference when it comes to golf. Today, we almost experienced another rules fiasco with Jon Rahm at the Irish Open. In light of this, I think we all would do well to consider what Bobby Jones, the Master, had to say on the subject of the rules:

    "The rules of golf, considered in their entirety, provide material for almost a lifetime of study. The diversity of situations arising in the course of play makes necessary many very nice decisions with respect to the application of the rules. It is not possible to expect that a merely cursory reading of a rule-book can provide this kind of knowledge."

This statement, which was accurate at the time, is even more true today. The Rules of Golf, along with the Decisions on the Rules of Golf, are pretty much beyond the ken of the average golfer. But Bobby goes on to offer the other side of things. He continued by writing:

    "On the other hand, there are two basic conceptions upon which the game of golf has been developed which most effectively point the way to the proper solution of any question that may arise.
     The first, with respect to the rules, is that the player must start and finish each hole with the same ball, playing each stroke as it lies, or accept the penalty for failure to do so. The second, with respect to etiquette, is that the player must in no way interfere with the play of his opponent or anyone else in the game. This right of the player to play his own game unmolested by other players is fundamental to golf. So it is quite enough in the beginning, I think, if the player should understand that he is to play every shot with the ball as it lies, or accept a penalty, and he must so conduct himself as to interfere with his opponent or partner in no way, shape, or form."

How wonderfully simple an explanation of the true intent of the rules of golf. We should play the ball as it lies and in no way interfere with our opponent in the playing of his game. Of course, in the modern age, we sometimes see players seemingly doing whatever they can to avoid playing a ball as it lies, at least if the lie isn't perfect, and the rules have been modified to actually aid in this endeavour. We would now have to make some big changes to the rules to get anywhere near Bobby's ideal. 

To the rules purists of today, I would point out that we now routinely see pros playing "preferred lies" any time there's a possibility of a mud ball. It's really legalized cheating. And yet do we see the rules purists complaining? No, they are too busy scrutinizing people marking their golf balls; straining the gnat out of the soup and swallowing the proverbial camel.

What happened to the days when you just had Walter Hagen's attitude? "I hit it here, and from here I have to play it." Imagine if the modern pros had to play from cart tracks like the oldtimers did.

Next, Bobby Jones writes about the proper sort of attitude we should have regarding the rules:

    "Let me emphasize right here that no one should learn the rules of golf with the idea that they will be useful in calling penalties upon other players. Throughout the many years of my golfing experience I never once found it necessary to call a rule against an adversary or a playing partner in a stroke-play competition. The reason for being well up on the rules is to avoid yourself making a mistake that might prove embarrassing. A player must be vigilant to see that he does not unwittingly violate some of the rules of the game. It must be admitted that golf is a very easy game in which to cheat if one should be so minded. Yet the occurrence of this sort of thing is so rare as to be almost non-existant in competition. Players whose skill is great enough to encourage them to play in important tournaments have learned such a respect for the traditions of the game that the thought of any sort of unfair play never crosses their minds."

I wrote earlier about the "Rules Nazis," the ones who get all lathered up about something like the Jon Rahm "incident," which was much ado about nothing. If only these folks would really consider what Bobby wrote. The rules don't exist to use against someone. The rules exist to help us play the game properly. You can bet that Jon Rahm never for a moment tried to pull a fast one when he placed his ball after marking it in the Irish Open. I'm certain it never even occurred to him. 

So, I, for one, celebrate the common sense approach taken by Jon Rahm's playing partner and the rules official. When it comes to the enforcement of the rules these days, common sense isn't all that common.