- Rick Reilly, Columnist, ESPN.com
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Golf is the best game with the stupidest rules ever invented.
It is considered heroic to call violations of these rules on yourself, even when the rules themselves are as dumb as a box of hair.
For instance, Dustin Johnson just lost the PGA Championship (and at least $1 million) for grounding his club harmlessly in a bunker. He made a 5 on that 18th hole at Whistling Straits, putting him in a playoff, only to be told by a man in an oddly colored blazer that he actually made a 7, dropping him to fifth, and out of the playoff. He was rightly bent by it. If he could've stolen two beers and popped the slide, he might've.
Why Whistling Straits calls unkempt, unraked, shaggy pits of sand that spectators have been standing in, sitting in, sleeping in, eating in and smoking in all week bunkers, I'll never know. It's a local rule that makes no sense at a spectator tournament.
Of course, Johnson should've seen the rule posted in the locker room:
"All areas of the course that were designed and built as sand bunkers will be played as bunkers (hazards), whether or not they have been raked."
Even the ones 50 feet outside the ropes. Fine. His bad.
But Whistling Straits was asking the players to treat these pits like bunkers when the course itself didn't treat them like bunkers. Whistling Straits didn't rake them, and didn't protect them from fans, footprints, strollers, beer cans or napping babies.
The reason you can't ground your club in a bunker is that you might (a) be able to move enough sand to improve your lie and (b) you might be able to "test the surface," i.e. figure out if there's a lot of sand under your ball, not much sand, soft sand, hard sand, rocks, etc.
But when a bunker gets treated like a weedy bleacher, with thousands of people clomping through it, it's no longer a bunker, nor should it be played as one. It's not a bunker anymore, it's a dirt path.
Johnson in no way violated the spirit of the grounding-the-club rule. All he did was gingerly set his club behind the ball and swing. No advantage gained. Yes, he was stupid to violate the rule. But Whistling Straits was stupid to make it.
Let me ask you this: How was Johnson even supposed to know he was in a bunker? He's played golf most of his 26 years and never before has he come upon a bunker where a dozen people were standing in it with him. Has it ever happened to you? If Whistling Straits is so intent on playing a slab of trampled sand as a bunker, doesn't it owe it to the players to maintain it like one? Why didn't it have ropes around them if it was expecting players to have to play out of them with such tenderness?
Even the champion's caddy thought it was a joke. "It's a bit farcical," said Scotsman Craig Connelly, the caddy for Martin Kaymer. "You can't have bunkers that people are walking through and grass is growing out of. It is a pathetic ruling to say that was a bunker."
Golf is an ass sometimes.
• Ball in a divot in the middle of the fairway. You can't move it. Congrats, you've just been penalized for hitting a fairway. You can get a free drop from ground under repair, a French drain, a staked tree, a man-made obstruction, a fence, a wall and a crane, but you can't get a free drop from some guy who swings like John Henry? It's man-made!
You have five minutes to find a lost ball. You can't have five minutes to find your scorecard and sign it? It takes a tiny mind to think up a rule that small.
• Tapping down a spike mark. Just before you try your 5-foot birdie putt, your 400-pound cousin walks across your line, leaving the Mt. Vesuvius of spike marks. The rules forbid you from flattening it out. Golf should never mean having to hook a 5-foot putt.
• Signing the card. Two summers ago, Michelle Wie turned in her second-place scorecard at the State Farm tournament and forgot to sign it until she'd left "the scoring area." Somebody chased her down and told her and she hurried back to sign it. Too late. She'd already been disqualified. She hadn't left the course, hadn't left the grounds, hadn't even left the clubhouse, but she'd left the roped-off "scoring area" around the scoring tent. Who decides what the "scoring area" is? You have five minutes to find a lost ball. You can't have five minutes to find your scorecard and sign it? It takes a tiny mind to think up a rule that small.
• Signing for a higher score. The famous Roberto De Vicenzo incident at the 1968 Masters. You sign for a higher score, you get that score. Makes absolutely no sense. Does Kobe Bryant have to keep the game score? Does he lose if he gets it wrong? Is math a golf skill?
• Wind. If the wind moves your golf ball and your club was near it, or addressing it, it's counted as a shot. That's not a shot, that's an act of God!
Golf is a gentlemen's game. It's just that the gentlemen who run it -- especially at Whistling Straits last weekend -- have too much damn time on their hands.
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Rick Reilly doesn't understand why golf has such crazy rules.