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
1. Bjorn would have 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
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,
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 game flat.
Reilly, Sports Illustrated
Rick Reilly, a senior writer for
Sports Illustrated, has been voted national sports writer
of the year eight times. His latest book, Who's
Your Caddy?, recounts his misadventures caddying
for tour pros like Jack Nicklaus and David Duval