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Hobbs Column: Mastering the rules of golf

Last Modified: Wednesday, April 17, 2013 11:22 AM

By Scooter Hobbs / American Press

That was quite a bear hug to finish the Masters golf tournament on Sunday.

It meandered past “congratulations,” edged its way beyond heartfelt and was working its way up to man crush by the time winner Adam Scott and runner-up Angel Cabrera finally disengaged.

But touching nonetheless.

The essence of good, honest golf competition.

It capped a wonderful hour or so in which the young matinee heartthrob and the dumpy 40-something basically played a golf game of H-O-R-S-E, looking for all the world like they were filming a clever Nike commercial.

It was great drama, briefly shoving the ever-upstaging Tournament Rules Committee out of their starring role in the world’s greatest golf event.

That will last another day or two before this year’s tournament is forever known for The Committee — from its brush with child abuse in penalizing 14-year-old Guan Tianlang for slow play to turning Tiger Woods’ second round into an Oliver Stone movie, complete with Zapruder film.

But, for all the fun and hijinks, the defining moment for me, the incident I just can’t shake out of my head, happened somewhere else on the back nine Sunday — don’t remember exactly which hole — and also involved Cabrera, whom they call “The Duck.”

The likable Argentine waddled down to find his ball inconveniently resting near the base of a rather bushy tree. It appeared he’d be able to take a good whack at it anyway, even with several pesky limbs in his way.

As he studied his limited options, wedging himself into the tree to the point he almost disappeared to check it with a practice swing, it looked doable, though you might not want to try it home.

But as he slowly, deliberately drew the club back, shrieks of horror came from the television commentator.

I’m paraphrasing here, but it went something like, “If so much as one leaf falls off that tree during his practice swing, it will be a two-stroke penalty on him.”

Say what?

All of a sudden I couldn’t bear to watch, especially on high-def TV. It was too much. I was holding my breath.

I knew golf had some silly rules. Golf has silly rules because golf is unfair and golf can have unfair rules because it knows the people who are addicted to it will keep coming back no matter how unjustly it tortures them.

But, really?

One solitary leaf?

That was a new one on me.

Golf isn’t being a bunch of tree-huggers here, either.

If one leaf was to dislodge during his swing, everything’s cool. Cabrera could chop the whole danged tree down if he caught a good enough chunk of it en route to hitting his ball.

But harming one leaf on a practice swing — and the tree appeared to have millions to spare — somehow constitutes “improving one’s stance.”

I wouldn’t suggest calling that one on anybody in your Saturday morning skins foursome, but I looked it up. It reads: “A player must not improve or allow to be improved his intended area of stance or swing by moving, bending or breaking anything growing or fixed.”

I guess that means “Yes, even one leaf that nobody’s going to miss.”

Golf rules are sometimes more complex and wishy-washy than the U.S. Tax Code and the NCAA rules manual combined.

But this is a bit much.

One leaf?

So let me see if I’ve got this straight.

Breaking one little bitty leaf off a tree that has no business being in your way to begin with is deemed to be improving one’s stance, while a 2-inch deep divot made 5 minutes ago can’t be considered “ground under repair” so you’ve got to deal with it.

Golf makes allowances for “burrowing animals” but not for golfers who swing backhoes.

Fortunately, Cabrera had a deft touch with his warm-up and no leaves were harmed in the making of his swing preparation.

Golf is like that.

You can get a free drop from itty-bitty red ants, but not from a cactus that has 10-inch needles aimed at you.

And, of course, there was the Tiger saga, which at the least will probably get the rules committee to clarify a commonly applied stroke-and-distance rule that reads: “as near as possible to the previous shot.”

Just about every other rule is applied by tried-and-true “club-lengths” measuring system, which dates to the ancient Scots.

Speaking of which, as long as we’re being inconclusive, how about a change in the rule for marking your ball, one which would state “as near as possible to where it lies,” or, at any rate, as near-abouts as possible as you toss a coin from 5 feet away?

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Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at

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