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Breaking the rules: Golf

Knowing golf's regulations first step in twisting them

Posted: Wednesday July 25, 2007 12:06PM; Updated: Wednesday July 25, 2007 2:09PM
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While Colin Montgomerie found bad weather can work to a golfer's advantage, it can also raise plenty of suspicions.
While Colin Montgomerie found bad weather can work to a golfer's advantage, it can also raise plenty of suspicions.
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By Cameron Morfit, GOLF.com

Golf is a game of integrity. (Mostly.) It's about honor. (Kind of.) But most of all it's about knowing the rules, because take it from the pros: If you know 'em, you can find a way to bend them, subvert them or otherwise take advantage of them.


Many players have been known to draw aiming lines on their golf balls, which they then position so the lines point toward wherever they want the ball to go. Golf's rules frown upon this practice; you couldn't, say, lay a club down to make sure your feet and shoulders are aligned correctly. But every player is entitled to put some sort of identifying mark on his orb, a loophole that any player with a brain in his head would use to explain the marks on his ball, no matter if that isn't the actual intent.


Many people, among them Ernie Els, believe the long, broom-handle style putter is a form of legalized cheating, but the USGA has yet to outlaw the club (despite occasional rumors to the contrary). At times, players also try to get away with a "hot" driver before claiming they didn't know it was outside the rules. Bottom line is the ball can only leave the clubface with a certain "spring," something players fully know. A few years back Tom Pernice Jr. had Tiger Woods' driver tested, thinking he was just hitting it too far. It came up legal. Tiger won't be the last player checked, nor should he be.

Weather delays

Should a round be suspended while a player is in the middle of a hole, the player marks the spot of the ball with a tee in the ground before picking up the ball for the night. Trouble is, that leaves all kinds of room to improve the lie of the ball. In March of 2005 Colin Montgomerie stirred a fair amount of controversy when he was accused of improving his lie at the Indonesian Open after a weather delay. Uncertain of his pre-rain delay lie after failing to mark his ball, Montgomerie consulted with his playing partners before placing his ball in a position that allowed him to shift his stance completely out of a bunker he had been in the day before. Though a tournament referee cleared Monty and a European Tour committee absolved him, the committee also issued a rare rebuke of his actions.

Unsolicited advice

If Phil Mickleson and Tiger Woods were to be paired up, the rules stipulate Tiger couldn't turn to Phil mid-round and ask, "Hey, Phil, what club are you going to hit?" But if Phil hits first, Tiger is going to know without asking. How? The caddie will conspicuously wave the bottom of the club, which is marked "6" or "7," or whatever club it is, in plain sight of the other caddies in the group. Or in plain sight of the other players. If that fails, a furtive hand gesture always works. This form of free advice is so pervasive -- and widely accepted -- it's like the "in the neighborhood play" in baseball, when the shortstop is credited with a force out at second base so long as the ball beats the runner to the base by a significant margin, even if the shortstop doesn't exactly tag the bag.

A peaceful, easy feeling

Speculation has long existed that some players have taken one of the so-called "beta-blocker" class of pharmaceuticals in order to tame their nerves on the course. Often prescribed by physicians to treat high blood pressure and irregular heartbeats, these drugs are thought by many players to allow competitors to artificially remain calm in stressful times. In the 1980s, Nick Price actually had a prescription for a beta-blocker to treat a case of high blood pressure, although he has said his game improved when he stopped using the drugs in '89. Since the Tour has no drug-testing program at the moment (it keeps threatening to come up with one), we don't really know if anyone's using, but they are illegal in golf.


This is probably the way golfers bend the rules the most. Rules are that if your stance is on a sprinkler head, or ground under repair, you get a free drop of one club length no closer to the hole. The thing is, that means you can drop from the rough to the fringe, from the rough to the fairway in some cases, or from under a tree branch to not under a tree branch anymore.

This doesn't prompt anyone to intentionally aim at ground under repair, but oftentimes a player will aim at a set of bleachers to get a free drop. This is what Jean Van de Velde did on the 18th hole in the final round of the 1999 British Open. Alas, his ball hit a railing and caromed into the Barry Burn water hazard. We know the rest.

Where ball placement comes into play most is in the way players try to pull a fast one by mis-remembering where the ball crossed the hazard.

Let's say you hit your drive into a red-staked [lateral] hazard. The rules say you must keep the point at which the ball entered the hazard between your drop point and the hole. Trouble is, there's no instant replay, so it's pretty much up to the player to remember exactly where the ball entered the hazard, and sometimes the player remembers it crossing into the hazard a lot closer to the hole than it seemed to his/her playing partner. This happened a few years back after Annika Sorenstam hit her ball into a hazard while playing with Paula Creamer. The two couldn't agree on where Sorenstam's ball entered, and there was some bad blood about it.