Golf Rules: The Dreaded Divot

I was playing Tim in a match and he was up 1 as we stood on the 16th tee, a long par 5.  I did my routinely weak drive about 220 yards, but Tim spanked his a good 40 yards past mine putting him in position to reach the green in two.  I hit my second shot down the fairway and walked up to find Tim using some language best reserved for prisoners or pimps.  Tim’s great drive had rolled into the far end of a divot — and not just any divot, but the divot made by a Paul Bunyan-esque hacker who had dug a good two inches deep.   What were Tim’s choices?

Options When In A Divot

Unfortunately, Tim had only two options.  Play it from where the ball sat (in the divot), or take an “Unplayable” and move the ball out of the divot but take a one-stroke penalty.  Neither of these options was very good for Tim, although they were to my advantage.  Tim didn’t do anything wrong, other than drive it down the middle of the fairway and have the bad luck to have it stop where someone else had been earlier that day.   Also, it doesn’t matter if the divot had been filled with sand, or if the divot had had some of the grass put into it, or if it was just a big gash in the earth.

Occasionally you’ll hear of some push to change a rule like this, perhaps to make a divot to be considered “ground under repair” and give the player penalty-free relief.  But luck, both good and bad, is part of golf and the game can unfairly reward or penalize a player.  A ball that hits a tree out of bounds and bounces back in-bounds is good luck, and no one clamors for that to be considered out of bounds because it is where it first struck something.  In the same way, the bad luck of the divot is just the rub of the green, which then requires a player to make a clear-headed decision about what to do and then hit the ball and continue on without letting it distract him.  That’s difficult.

So what did Tim do?  After a good three minutes of colorful language, he hit the ball out of the divot.  Unfortunately, he hit the ball way right (probably since the club’s face was affected by the angle and depth of the divot), and before you knew it he lost the hole and we were all square with two holes to play.  In this scenario, who do you think won?  Given that I didn’t have to deal with being angry at my bad luck, I was able to win the 17th and push the 18th for a 1-up win.  I have no doubt that if Tim hadn’t hit into the divot, he could have been on the 16th green in two and had a 2-up lead with 2 to play going into 17th, and probably would have won.  But, as they say, every shot (or result) in golf benefits someone.  This day, Tim’s bad luck was offset by my good luck.

 

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