This Reaction Is Par for the Course in Golf Circles

You would have thought I had lunged at the Liberty Bell with a ball-peen hammer.

Scene: it's the ninth hole of last Monday's U.S. Open playoff between Retief Goosen and Mark Brooks at Southern Hills.

The ninth and 18th greens are separated by only a few feet, clearly an architectural glitch on the Perry Maxwell-designed course.

As Goosen and Brooks peered over putts, yours truly took a courtesy knee to allow spectators a better view.

Unknowingly, the top of my canvas tennis shoe violated 18th-green air space. If this had been China, they would have confiscated the sneaker and used it for political gain.

"Look at your foot!!" a United States Golf Assn. man screamed in one of those breathless, hysterical, golf voices. "That's the 18th green of the U.S. Open!!"

So it was.

My shoe top must have knocked senseless five or six blades of grass.

Had I known CPR, trust me, I would have performed mouth-to-mouth on my fertilized friends.

Don't go brown now, fellas, Goosen and Brooks are making the turn! You have everything to live for! Meanwhile, three USGA G-men roamed the 18th, in their grass-assassin togs, apparently doing no damage to the 18th green of the U.S. Open!

Earlier, David Duval had turned so churlish after chili-dipping a shot he took a second divot the size of a medium pizza.

What, no USGA Swat Team for that act of desecration?

My toe trespassing was wrong, and I accept a reasonable penance: three Hale Irwins and two Arnold Palmers?

That said, the incident underscores what I like least about golf, namely, everything that surrounds it--the general smugness and sanctimony.

Best I can gather, the sport began in 15th Century Scotland with men, wearing skirts, knocking rocks about with sticks.

Golf is a terrific pursuit, teaching patience, humility and betting strategies.

The game at its purest should be played in long shadows, at a twilight rate, on a public course, lugging a pull-cart.

Harry Vardon said, "There are few methods of practice as valuable as making a round of the links with a single club."

The rest you can cram in Colin Montgomerie's locker.

How is it golf took such a toddy turn on the road of Social Darwinism?

Bowling dates back to 5200 B.C.--one scientist allegedly found a pair of two-tone shoes in an Egyptian crypt--yet ended up as blue collar as Pabst Blue Ribbon.

My guess is that it always has been about real estate. You needed land to golf, and land was owned by landlords.

Case closed and, for some of you, course closed.

Golf tends to act exalted when, in fact, it is a duplicitous game.

I love those USGA men on TV, pontificating on rulings as if they were handed down by thunder bolt.

Of course, many recreational golfers are inveterate cheaters, as in lie, as in improving one's lie by any toe-nudge means necessary.

Only God and the USGA know how much money is illegally exchanged on golf courses each day.

One never must stray from the rules, though, and there are a Casey Martin cart-load of them.

Did you know, according to the USGA rule book, a worm half-embedded in the ground is considered a loose impediment and can be removed without penalty?

Did you know, if your ball rolls into a paper cup on the green, and the wind blows the cup, you must by rule return the ball to its original spot?

Golf swears by its rules until it changes and/or three-putts them.

Example: soft spikes.

Metal-spiked shoes had been perfectly acceptable on courses for decades.

Now, by decree from the Marquis de Sod, most courses demand that you wear soft spikes.

Recently, during a round with three friends, a course Marshall made a frantic bee-line toward our group.

Invasion of locust?

Nope.

Turns out someone back at the clubhouse reported a member of our group was playing in metal spikes. At the risk of being expelled, my playing partner spent the round in tennis shoes.

Golf boasts no one is bigger than the game or, in some cases, smaller than it.

Two-time champion Lee Janzen was effectively ousted from the U.S. Open after an USGA pronouncement.

When play was suspended during first-round action because of bad weather, Janzen marked his ball.

He returned the next morning and found dew had been swept from the fairway but not in the area of his mark.

Janzen brushed the dew aside with a towel.

"I certainly wasn't trying to break any rules," Janzen later told the Associated Press.

A USGA official following the group did not report the breach of Rule 13-2 until the next morning, after Janzen had signed his scorecard.

The USGA ruled since the violation was seen and not reported by its own committee member, Janzen would not be disqualified.

Instead, he received a two-stroke penalty.

Janzen was five-over par.

The cut was six-over.

Sweethearts, those USGA guys.

Somewhere between Carnoustie and Carmel, between misty mornings on the hallows and Fuzzy Zoeller, golf got four-iron full of itself, fatted from corporate sponsorship and exempt players.

Dan Jenkins, the legendary golf writer, once said, "There's nothing wrong with the PGA Tour that a Depression couldn't cure."

Perhaps that's a bit harsh.

Golf doesn't need radical change.

It just needs to loosen its grip.

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