Saturday, June 7, 2008

Measuring Character

Golf will take a measure of the character of a person!
by Charlie Leck

"It is a question of fact whether a ball that has not been found after having been struck toward a water hazard is in the hazard. In order to apply this Rule, it must be known or virtually certain that the ball is in the hazard. In the absence of such knowledge or certainty, the player must proceed under Rule 27-1." [USGA Rules of Golf]

Somewhere I read once that golf will reveal the character of a person more clearly than any other sport. I believe that to be true and have had many occasions both as a player and as a rules official where I have witnessed one's character being revealed.

I was officiating at a boy's and girl's state championship tournament over the last couple of days. I thoroughly enjoy committing my time as a volunteer for these high school events. Working with kids is great. It's enjoyable to teach them. Most of them come to these events with a basic grounding in the rules, but few have been able to fine tune their knowledge of golf's complicated rules and decision books. I'm pleased when I can add to their knowledge.

As I watched, I noticed that one young man was struggling with both his game and with his temper. He was howling after every bad or poor decision that he made. His fellow competitors (as the rules book calls them) were showing some signs of embarrassment about the displays of anger. A bit later, after watching the young man slam one of his golf clubs deeply into the turf, I decided to chat with him. I explained to him why there was an etiquette section in the official book of the rules of golf. And, I told him that I could tolerate the testing of those etiquette standards quite a lot, but I couldn't abide attacking the golf course owned by our courteous and generous host. He listened to me with concentration and he politely apologized for his behavior. I was pleased that the young man's character had been challenged and tested and that the boy had passed the test. He would be better in the future as a result of it.

Later in the day I was called to the 4th tee of the golf course to chat about a rules problem. A young man, showing some embarrassment, explained to me that he was pretty sure he had struck a ball twice with his putter on the previous green. I asked him to explain and describe the incident. When he struck the ball with his putter, it had popped up a little bit instead of rolling straight away and he was pretty sure he heard and felt the putter strike the ball again.

I looked to the other players in his group (fellow competitors) and they shrugged, indicating they knew nothing of it. They had not seen a double strike nor heard a double hit. I looked back to the young man.

"Pretty sure?" I asked.

"Sure!" He answered.

"Under Rule 14-4, you'll have to add another stroke."

"Thank you," he replied, and I walked off the tee.

His mother was in his gallery and asked me what had happened. I asked her if that was her son I'd been chatting with.

"Yes," she said nervously.

"You can be very proud," I told her. "He's quite a good young man."

In another incident, a young man drove a ball far down the left side of the fairway. It struck a blacktop cart path and bounded high and forward toward a bridge that crossed a water hazard. Because I had been off, tending to a ruling elsewhere on the course, I had arrived back on the tee and saw the result of the young man's tee shot. We all spent the next five minutes searching for the ball near and in the water hazard. There was a relatively good chance the ball had entered the hazard somewhere, but there was not hard evidence. No one had seen the ball enter. I had queried the spectators about this. There were clearly other places, not in the hazard, where the ball could have been lost. The young man wanted to take a drop, under rule 26-1 (Relief for a ball in a water hazard). In good conscience, I couldn't allow it. The standard for such a thing is the quotation that begins this blog. We did not "know" nor were we "virtually certain that the ball [was] in the hazard."

The young man was not pleased, but he seemed to resign himself to my ruling. I drove him back to the tee to hit again. During the drive, I tried to explain the rule and my ruling.

It turns out his coach was very displeased and lodged a complaint about me and even indicated that I had said things that I certainly had not or ever would say (like, that the ball had to be found and identified within the hazard in order for me to rule it was in the hazard). No, I know full-well that that is not the standard by which one judges this matter. In fact, anyone who has officiated even a few tournaments on courses where there are water hazards, has had to deal with this question of an unwitnessed entrance of a ball into a water hazard. The basic question becomes this: Could the ball be lost anywhere else? In this particular case, there was no question in my mind but that there were other places it could be lost.

In fact, another rules official later did indeed find the ball in question, with the player's identifying mark, in play, with a very open shot to the green, and actually in an area where we had not been searching. The player was later told by the supervising official that his ball had been found in play. The young man, upset even 24 hours later, was still saying I could have handled it better. If that is true, I apologize, and I will search for ways to explain this ruling more clearly in the future. Nevertheless, I expected I might receive an apology from the coach, or player, or both. None was forthcoming.

Indeed, golf takes the measure of a person.

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