Here we go again...
Every few months, certain golf debates bubble up around happenings in professional tournaments. The Rules have gotten a lot of play lately, thanks to a couple awkward, high-profile moments courtesy of Patrick Reed.
On Sunday, the foofaraw-du-jour centered on an unfortunate break Lee Westwood received on the 72nd hole of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Trying to catch eventual champion Bryson DeChambeau, Westwood's tee shot on Bay Hill's long par-4 18th hole settled just beyond the midpoint of a sand-filled divot.
Golf Opinion Twitter mobilized immediately.
Westwood, being an excellent ball-striker throughout his quarter-century career, hit a fine shot, about 50 feet left of the flag, safely on the green. His result was better than that of several players who hit from perfect fairway lies.
This question comes up from time to time: should golfers get free relief from divots in the fairways? The commenters above, and many other golfers, seem to think the answer should be "Yes." If your ball finds its way into a divot - sand-filled or unrepaired - you should be able to mark it, lift it, clean it and drop it on unmarred grass, they say.
But the answer is, and should always be, "No." Here are four reasons why:
1. It violates the bedrock principle of the game
The Rules of Golf can be complicated (even for pros), and there is healthy debate over some of the more esoteric and seldom-applied passages. But at the very front of the document, in Rule 1.1, sits the dual commandment that the golfer "plays the golf course as he or she finds it; and plays the ball as it lies."
This is as close to a fundamental concept as the game has. A round of golf consists of a series of journeys from tee to cup, and the intrigue of the game lies in challenging the player to navigate those journeys as efficiently as possible. Golf is challenging on both a physical and a mental level, and the handling of adversity on the course - including seemingly random rare, unfortunate breaks like having to hit from a divot - is an integral part of the game. The "rub of the green" is a sacred obstacle that helps golf serve as a periodic metaphor for life. Unforeseen misfortunes cannot simply be erased in our daily lives; nor should they be in golf.
2. It is unenforceable
Even if golf's overseers were moved to kill one of the principles on which the game has operated for centuries in this way, they would not be able to enforce it. There is no precise and unassailable definition of what constitutes a divot on a golf course and what does not. Grass is growing all the time, and as a divot fills in, it eventually ceases to be a divot.
How could golfers and tournament rules officials be expected to all carry an identical image of what is barely a divot, versus what is not a divot? This would introduce such an untenable level of subjectivity into the game that players would ask for relief anytime they did not have a perfect lie in a fairway.
If you think having to hit from a divot is "unfair," just wait until you would see the otherwise acceptable lies players would end up receiving relief from.
3. It makes golfers less accountable to one another and makes golf course maintenance worse
Replacing or filling in divots (depending on what sort of grass you're playing on) is a fundamental element of golf etiquette because golfers have a duty to care for the golf course. It is part of the understood covenant every golfer agrees to the moment the first tee shot is struck, even though judging by the conditions of the pockmarked greens at practically every course in Creation during its peak season, it seems millions of golfers either forget or ignore this basic courtesy.
Not only is repairing a divot a sign of respect for a course's superintendent, it's a sign of respect to other golfers. Not only do I not want my ball to end up in someone else's unfixed divot, I don't want anyone else's ball to end up in mine. If that concern no longer existed, what do you think would happen to golfers' already poor conscientiousness about caring for the course?
4. It's just not that big a deal
Those who would do away with the directive to play the ball as it lies in a divot act like that rare occurrence is the end of the world. In reality, its bark is worse than its bite.
Lee Westwood himself weighed in on the debate, coming down firmly in the camp that aims to uphold golf's sensible tradition.
Just gotta shrug it off and get on with it. The game was never meant to be fair. That’s the mental challenge.— Lee Westwood (@WestwoodLee) March 8, 2021
The next time you find your ball in a divot on the course, "picture the perfect impact of a club trapping downward onto the ball and removing a thin divot on the target side of the ball," said Martin Chuck, a member of GolfPass faculty, whose series Breaking Bad Habits: On The Course includes a dedicated segment aimed at teaching golfers to extricate themselves from divot lies. "Enjoy the challenge."