When I was just 16 years old, my father thought my golf game was in good enough shape to accompany him and his friends for a round. Needless to say, I was thrilled and filled with pride, especially since my dad was a scratch golfer. On the first tee I managed to work through my nerves and keep my drive in the fairway. Making my way to the green I was starting to settle in to enjoy a relaxing afternoon of golf.
Trying to impress the old man and pull my weight, I was tending the flagstick while my dad chipped from a precarious lie just off the fringe. As he struck the ball I pulled the pin, and at that same second he yelled for me to put it back. You see, he skulled his shot and the ball was screaming at the hole. I didn’t get the flag back in the cup so nothing stopped his ball. It continued past the hole, across the green, and down the hill. Then came the verbal beating. What should have been an easy par for him became a double bogey, and it was all my fault. 30 years later, while reading the USGA’s rules of golf, the section on tending the flagstick, I learned that I was not wrong in my action so many years ago. In fact, it was my father who erred. Despite this fact, I carried that guilt for all of my golfing life.
Realizing there existed no structured way to learn the rules of golf that was fun, entertaining, and affordable, I decided to solve the problem. This example, that caused me so much pain, was a great way to explain the art of tending the flagstick.
Here’s and excerpt from The Golf Rules (stroke play), to show how that experience is explained:
“Tend the flag for me,” Dick said to Richard who was walking across the green. As Richard held the flagstick, Dick lined up his chip and struck the ball, sending it fast at the hole. “LEAVE IT IN! LEAVE IT IN!” he yelled as Richard started to pull the flagstick from the cup (officially known as the ‘hole’). His ball hit the flagstick and dropped within a foot of the cup. (C1.9) “Yeah baby! That’s how you do it,” exclaimed Dick as he walked over and putted his ball in the cup with his wedge. (C1.10) “Par for me.”
As I read more rules I remembered experiences that matched these explanations. I then began to string these memories and rule encounters into a single story of an 18-hole round until I had a manuscript ready to be turned into a book that could educate golfers around the world.
The most often broken rule in golf is ‘the mulligan’. Why do so many people feel the need for a do-over? You don’t see this happen in other sports. Can you imagine landing on ‘go directly to jail’ while playing Monopoly and saying to your opponent that you are going to roll again and not count that? Does the idea of missing a free throw in basketball then stating that your shot didn’t count sound ludicrous?
Here’s anther excerpt from The Golf Rules (stroke play), explaining how the rule instructs us on balls hit out of bounds:
Last to hit was Howard. With his stocky frame lumbering over the ball, he teed off. His first drive of the day took a huge hook that went well into the dense trees on the left side of the fairway that bordered the edge of the course. “That’s my breakfast ball, I’ll take a mulligan,” he stated as he quickly teed up and hit another ball, which managed to find the right side of the fairway. (C1.5)
By not counting every stroke you have created a fictitious handicap that you can’t apply in a real match or equitable game. If everyone in your group takes a mulligan then does it help your score in relation to your competitors? Does it make you any better or worse golfer by saying you shot a 96 versus a 94?
I then worked with The USGA, learned the craft of writing and marketing, found a publisher, and started my career as a writer.
Looking to the future, I realized that the rules of stroke play are only a part of the game. Etiquette plays a very large amount too. To help with that subject, I developed the next book in the series, The Golf Rules-Etiquette, about a municipal golfer who wins a round of golf at a country club and is challenged to show a higher level of manners on the golf course.
Next week, more on the rules of golf, golf etiquette, life, and how they intertwine.
Richard Todd is the author of The Golf Rules, an entertaining and educational series of books on stroke play, match play, and golf etiquette, as well as Short Stories from the Long Links. He is a lifelong golfer, has been trained on the rules of golf by the USGA and the PGA, has been interviewed on the PGA Tour radio station, and seen in multiple print and electronic media. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, and YouTube, and visit www.TheGolfRules.com for more information and to purchase his works.