Ben Curtis is like the guy standing at a bus stop when the
burglar comes running up to him with a Hefty bag full of
hundred-dollar bills and says, "Hold this a second, will ya?"
Curtis didn't win the British Open. He happened to be the only
one left standing after everybody else ran out of luck or sand.
If golf's rules weren't moldier than Madame Curie's underwear
drawer, Thomas Bjorn would have been the winner. Or possibly Mark
Roe. Let's just test your knowledge of the dumbest set of rules
in sports. (The proper response to each item is, "That's the
stupidest thing I've ever heard!")
1. Bjorn would've won the Open by one shot if not for a
two-stroke penalty he got in the first round on Thursday. After
he left a bunker shot in the bunker, he slammed his wedge into
the sand in disgust. That's considered "testing the condition" of
the sand (Rule 13-4/35 in The Rules of Golf). Of course, that's
dumber than dirt, because Bjorn wasn't testing the surface at
all--he'd just played a shot from the stuff! Bjorn now becomes
Best Player Ever Penciled Out of a Major.
2. "But the rules do not see gray areas," you say. Oh, yes, they
do. If Bjorn had leaned on his club in the sand to keep from
falling? No penalty (13-4/2). If he'd absentmindedly stuck an
umbrella or a rake in the bunker before he played? No penalty
(13-4/20). Of course, this is a game that lets you move a dead
snake, but not a live one (23-6.5), so go figure.
3. Also on Thursday, Phil Mickelson (0 for 45 in majors compared
with Curtis's 1 for 1) was nicked with a one-stroke penalty
because his ball moved in the 35-mph wind as he was addressing it
with his putter (18-2/a). Mickelson said the wind moved his ball
six or seven other times that day when he wasn't ready to putt.
So what do you do, have your manager call God?
4. Roe shot the best round of the Open, a 67 on Saturday, to
sneak to within two shots of the lead. Except he'd forgotten to
exchange scorecards with his playing partner, Jesper Parnevik,
who, being loonier than a $1 Canadian coin, also forgot. In the
end Roe mistakenly signed the card for Parnevik's 81 and Parnevik
signed for Roe's 67, and both were disqualified (6-6d/4). Can you
imagine this happening in other sports? Uh, Shaq, you signed for
38 points and you only scored 36, so the Pacers win the title!
5. On Sunday of this year's Masters, leader Jeff Maggert hit a
bunker shot that ricocheted off the lip of the bunker and hit him
in the chest. He got a two-stroke penalty (19-2b) and missed the
playoff by four shots. But why? Did he do it intentionally? Did
he think, You know what I'll do? I'll bank this one off the lip,
off my forehead and 125 yards onto the green. Please!
6. "Ah, but the rules can't assume intent," you say. Oh, yes,
they can. The rule book is full of references to "intention." If
you "flick" a range ball out of your fairway, it's fine. If you
intentionally hit it as though to practice, it costs you two
shots (7-2/5). Why didn't the rule makers consider the intent in
situations like the ones involving Bjorn and Roe?
7. At this year's U.S. Women's Open, Alison Nicholas, a Florence
Nightingale sort, gently nudged a spider out of her putting line
with a tee. She was assessed a two-shot penalty (16-1/a). Yet if
she had moved the spider with her hand or her putter or her
seven-iron, no penalty.
8. "Do you realize," says Tour pro Tom Lehman, "that if your ball
is hanging on the lip of the hole, you only have 10 seconds to
putt it in [16-2]? Sometimes, you can even see it rolling
forward, but you have to putt it in 10 seconds, or it's one shot
[penalty]. So they're telling you to hit a ball that's moving,
which is also illegal."
9. You make a hole in one. You find that the ball is trapped
between the flagstick and the edge of the hole, but it's not in
the bottom of the cup. Jubilant, you pull the ball out and kiss
it. Too bad that you've actually made a 3: one, the shot; two, a
one-stroke penalty for picking up the ball; three, you have to
place the ball on the lip of the hole and putt out (17-4/1). You
remove the laces from your golf shoes and hang yourself.
10. The whole rule book is just dumber than Elimidate. Having to
hit out of a divot in the middle of a fairway is the "worst rule
in golf [13-1]," says Tiger Woods. And do you realize you can get
100 members of the gallery to move a 2,000-pound rock off a green
(23-1/3), but you can't shake the water off the branch of a tree
before hitting (13-2/23)?
Meanwhile, the rule that's killing golf goes ignored. That's the
one that's supposed to keep the distance of the ball down
(Appendix III/5). Golf's out-of-control equipment companies have
so juiced the balls that our best courses--Pebble Beach, Pine
Valley, Merion--are obsolete, not long enough for major
tournaments now. Did you know that guys like Curtis were hitting
driver, sand wedge to the par-5 7th hole on Sunday?
Someday the lumps of dandruff who run golf are going to realize
they're worrying about spiders while elephants are stomping the
B/W PHOTO: JEFFERY A. SALTER
If you have a comment for Rick Reilly, send it to
After watching the British Open, test your knowledge of the
dumbest set of rules in sports.