Following the rules of the game

Published 8:23 pm Tuesday, August 24, 2010

If a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it…

If a pro golfer grounds his club in a sand trap that doesn’t look anything like a sand trap — on the last hole of a major tournament — is he still breaking a rule?

In golf, it’s black and white, even when Dustin Johnson’s nightmare in one of the 1,200 traps at Whistling Straits was part tan sand and part green grass.

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With two out in the bottom of the ninth and the tying runner on base, a called third strike to end the game has to fit in a thimble directly over the middle of the plate.

In the final seconds of a one-point game for a spot in the Final Four, the last couple possessions will be survival of the fittest. Charging? Blocking? Traveling? Three seconds? Broken nose? Oops, none of the whistles work anymore.

Many aspects of golf are admirable. Players generally call penalties on themselves, with the excusable exception of Johnson, since he honestly didn’t know he was breaking a rule.

Even more about golf is frustrating. A rule, even a small one, is the rule whether it’s on the first hole of John Deere Classic or the last hole of the PGA Championship, whether a player is in first place or 128th place and whether millions are watching on CBS or while no one’s watching. This is both admirable and frustrating.

A couple weeks ago during one of the Southeastern District golf matches, a King’s Fork golfer found Bide-A-Wee’s No. 14 to be a major headache.

After a drive onto a neighboring fairway, a couple of his ensuing irons found one of the tall trees between himself and the correct fairway and wound up going for negative yardage. Every golfer knows how much fun that is.

After pitching onto the green, he realized he had played the wrong ball. It would have been simple, quicker and less frustrating to putt out and move on to No. 15. No one would’ve been the wiser.

Instead, with the help of a long conference with both teams’ coaches, he got the rule right. It was golf the way it’s supposed to be played.

The same type of thing happens in practically every high school match, often with a golfer saving an opponent penalty strokes before they happen.

Think of a Friday night on the gridiron. The next time a linebacker stops a play before it starts, points at the other side’s wide receiver and says, “Wait, wait, he’s lined up in an illegal formation. Hey dude, line up here and you’ll be okay. Okay, game on,” let me know if I’m not there.