When golf balls knock out eyes, spill beer, ride trucks and attract seagulls
True enjoyment of golf comes not only from celebrating the great shots that you rarely make accidentally, but also suffering the bad, and persevering the ugly breaks that come with golf.
Unlike regular sports like soccer, tennis and rugby that are played on a regulation course of a standard size and shape, the enterprising nature of humans seeking challenges and thrills created a few other sports where nothing is standard or ever certain.
Among them are mountain bike racing, cross-country running, deep sea diving and golf.
The uncertainty of the natural environment means that the results of a perfectly-executed move can produce results that vary wildly from the desired or expected results.
The reverse is also true. The vagaries of nature add to your wacky and virtually unpredictable swing, spicing up the uncertainty of the equation.
Good golfers aim to land the ball as close to the flag as possible. See what happens when this is achieved perfectly: the ball slam dunks for a hole out.
It can also strike the pin and zoom back across the green and into the very water hazard it had beautifully flown over.
A 300-yard drive struck perfectly down the pipe can stop on a nice fluffy lie, or end smack in the middle of a divot.
Some imperfect shots are known for producing some surprises. A nervous hacker executes a head-up and tops the ball, the ball refuses to take off but instead rolls for miles straight into the cup for an impossible hole-in-one!
In the meantime, a hole-in-one has eluded accurate golf stalwart Titus despite winning almost every trophy in Kenya, except the Kenya Open.
The crates of frothy libations pledged by well-wishers waiting in anticipation of his achieving that one elusive shot are stacked up to the clubhouse roof, mine included.
When the gods decide to have fun with us, do you vilify the guy who executed a perfect shot but reaps a curveball, or congratulate the guy who played a lousy shot but got lucky?
In golf, it’s called rub of the green. As long as a third party was not involved, the result is valid.
Some golfers have voiced an opinion that certain bad breaks are so preposterous that the golfer should be granted a do-over and retake the shot.
When seagulls intervene
Seriously, why should a ball count as drowned if it landed and stopped on the green, but a seagull picked and flew away with it, only to drop it into the water?
This one actually happened to Brad Fabel's ball on the famous 17-hole island green at TPC Sawgrass during the 1998 Players Championship in full view of thousands of golfers present and millions watching on TV.
Was he supposed to tee up another ball for his third stroke? Not fair!
On a course I used to frequent in Gotham City, the approach shot was towards a severely elevated green such that you could not see the green. Only the top of the flag was visible. Some cheeky urchins used to hide behind the fence and nick our golf balls.
When golfers arrived on the green, some of the balls could not be found anywhere. Then you would hear laughter coming from across the fence and see the kids hightailing towards the forest.
I wondered what would happen if one day some cheeky kid with some golf knowledge stuffed the four balls into the cup!
The rule makers mulled over such complaints and agreed to grant free drops on certain situations.
In the seagull case, a new ball is placed on the green, as close as possible to where the original one had stopped.
What about stolen balls?
When a ball is stolen, a new one is dropped. In both cases, this is only allowed if there was an actual sighting or evidence of the disappearance, similar to the Ball lost in a Hazard ruling.
A free drop is also provided if the ball disappears in an area that has anthill holes, even if the ball is not actually seen going into the hole.
If your course has power or telephone lines running across, you get to replay the shot. But only if the course has passed a local rule to that effect.
An interesting case happened at the Senior British Open at St Andrews in July this year when former Kenya Open winner Mark James’ drive on the 17th hole struck a bird midflight.
The ball and the bird fell straight down.
The design of this hole is such that the tee shot has to soar over the sheds of the Old St Andrews hotel adjacent, an area that is marked out of bounds.
What an unlucky break for James who came in looking for a birdie, only to hit one!
Moving external agencies can cause very interesting, and very controversial scenarios when the incident happens on the green.
During a strong wind, a ball rolling on the green is prone to wind force and may get deflected ever so slightly. Nothing you can do about that, and no corrective action is required from the golfer.
But what about a deflection caused by a wind-blown leaf? The required relief is totally different. Rule 19 covers these external agency issues and a good golfer would be well advised to get familiar with them.
Americans playing friendlies have pushed the envelope on free drops even further and created the Breakfast ball or Mulligan. Most people make a mess of the first shot of the day, right? So after the first tee shot goes OB, you get to tee up another ball and retake the shot.
Of course that is not in the rules and you may be required to drop a $20 note for the privilege.
Or to even the score, the other golfers get a chance to play an extra shot that is not counted, somewhere along the way. But they have to declare their intention first.
During Charity events, Mulligans are actually sold. That is fun golf of course, not real golf.
The most painful quirk is the wayward tee shot that flies offline and beans some spectator.
Lost an eye
Unlike watching on TV where broadcasters use modern technology to trace out the path of the ball on your screen, in real life, it is almost impossible to spot the ball that is hit from 300 yards away, high into the sky and towards you.
That is why when you see the Marshall at to the tee gesturing frantically towards you, or hear shouts of “fore”, you are advised to immediately look down and cover your head with your hands, then count to 10 because the missile could be headed your way.
Golf fan Corine Remande, who had travelled all the way from Egypt to watch last month’s Ryder Cup in France, seems either to have not heard the shout, or looked up towards where the shout was coming from.
She caught Brook Koepka’s errant drive smack in the face and lost her eye.
Ball lands in spectator’s pocket
Tour Pros achieve higher hang times, so take your sweet time before you uncover your head. Some wayward tee balls can be really offline.
At one British Open, Rafael Cabrella Bello’s first Tee shot of the day was never found.
And, zany results happen when the golf ball adopts a mind of its own.
During Thursday’s opening round of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, Belgian PGA golfer Thomas Pieters saw his drive go well left and head toward spectators at the par-4 ninth of the Ballyliffin Golf Club.
The ball slipped right inside a spectator’s pocket! Scottish golfer Paul Lawrie was once left stunned after one of his shots landed inside the shirt of a spectator.
That was reminiscent of the 2016 Ryder Cup.
During the morning session, Sergio Garcia hit a ball into a course Marshall’s pocket. In the afternoon, American Brooks Koepka hit a drive directly onto the backpack of European Team member Thomas Pieters’ dad.
Not to be outdone, at the British Masters this week, Tommy Fleetwood redefined a Hole-in-one when he curved his drive on the 17th hole smack into the cup holder of a Marshall’s golf cart.
Beer spilt, almost
Had it landed three inches to the left, it would have plonked into and splashed out the beer in the Marshalls beer-filled plastic cup in the second cup holder.
Some Hashers were already shouting out their preset and unquestionable penalty for pouring somebody’s drop of beer: a full beer.
When Rory McIlroy drives it wild, he does so consistently. On the Saturday of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in May this year, he beaned three people during his third round.
The first errant ball grazed a woman’s hand. On the 17th hole, he hit a steward in the back, an unlucky one considering that he had just been hit by Sam Horsfield only moments before.
On the 18th, Rory’s ball, hit a woman on the head near the green, drawing blood.
These incidents happened on the course and were seen by marshals.
The “targets” stopped moving hence it was easy to drop the ball right there per the rules.
What about the unique case where the ball drops inside a moving truck or golf cart? Rare, but has happened.
Can good breaks be created? Dylan Frittelli or George Coetzee may know, but certainly will not admit or tell.
On the third round of the 2018 Volvo China Open, both players got fantastic bounces off the grandstands on the 18th hole that turned potential trouble into eagle attempts.
Coetzee’s errant second approach shot on the par 5 caromed to within four feet of the hole, which he easily converted for eagle, while Fritelli made birdie.
It’s an easy trick if you know the rules, and have read the local rules.
Anirban Lahiri used the same trick when he realised that he was between clubs. A short shot risked dunking the ball into the front pond.
Bending the law
So he took a longer club than necessary, and bounced the ball off the grandstand. He knew he would get a free drop even if the ball ended up too close to the stands.
Some breaks can be quite pleasant.
At the 2009 Masters practice round, previous 2000 Masters champion Vijay Singh aced the par-3 16th hole after skipping the ball across the water, onto the green and into the hole.
No biggie there, right? We used to do that on the Chania river on the way home from school, using some flattish stones. Try the shot at your golf course dam.
Hint, hint: use your 3-iron and an abbreviated swing. If the ball makes it across, your opponents will claim it is serendipity. But if it sinks, they will be equally happy to blame it on zemblanity. Enjoy your golf, keep it in the short grass.
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