Tiger gaffe inspires FAQ for amateur golfers

If a ruling can sneak up on one of the greatest golfers ever, then we could use some guidance too. Michael Madrid/USA TODAY Sports

Some guy who wasn’t Tiger Woods won the Masters again.

But before "younger and taller some guy" edged out "shorter and older some guy" in a playoff to remember, the story of the Masters was Woods being assessed a two-stroke penalty for taking an illegal drop. The two strokes prevented Tiger from officially being upgraded from “lurking” to “on the prowl.” Disappointing.

After the ruling was issued, I headed over to my neighborhood golf rulebook retailer and read up on the many golf laws that govern this great land.

While the punishment for Woods’ infraction was a gray area, it seems many common golf occurrences are not addressed in any way by the rulebook.

So let’s clarify those now with some FAGRQs: Frequently Asked Golf Rules Questions.

I was pretty sure I saw my drive land just off the fairway, but when I walked up to it, it was nowhere to be found. Instead of taking a penalty drop, can I just assume that, I don’t know … a squirrel ran off with it or something … and drop a ball without a penalty?

Definitely! If you can’t find your ball and you are positive you didn’t hit it out of bounds, just look for suspicious things in the general area where you think your ball might have landed.

Is there a single gopher hole? Maybe your ball miraculously rolled right into it and is now 15 feet below ground, the prized new piece of art in some gopher’s living room. Is there any mud? Maybe it swallowed your ball like a wooly mammoth in a tar pit. Is there a rock or pebble? Maybe it caused your ball to carom wildly some 60 yards in the woods. That pebble shouldn’t be there! The grounds crew needs to take better care of this course!

If you can answer “yes,” to any of the above questions, your ball was probably (unfairly!) done in by one of them. Drop a new ball 10 or 20 yards closer to the hole (you really killed that shot!) and take no penalty stroke.

How long can I look for a lost ball before I have to continue play?

If it’s some cheap, crappy ball that’s all scuffed up from repeated impacts with the cart path, one or two full-speed drive-bys on the golf cart is all that is allowed before you have to say: “Whatever. I’ll just drop one.”

However, if it is a new, expensive ball, you are allowed to look for it for a full 24-hour period. If the golfers in the group behind you complain about waiting on the tee box for an entire day, just yell: “I lost a Titleist Pro V1 up here! Those things are, like, four bucks a ball! I’m not leaving it behind in this economy!”

If the golfers behind you have any human compassion at all, they will join in on the search. In fact, a great golf course will go on complete lockdown until every lost premium golf ball is found.

(Note: Going forward, you should probably only buy yourself crappy golf balls and/or pull some out of the bottom of an on-course pond. Splurge on the good ones if/when you qualify for the Masters.)

Can I drop my ball closer to the hole if my playing partner Steve breaks wind while standing behind me? (It really smells bad.)

Classic Steve. But the answer is no. Unfortunately, a player may not improve his ball position due to bodily odors. You may, however, move your ball laterally as far as you need to escape the offending odor. Or you can just wait for a gust of wind to dissipate the hazard. While waiting, it is suggested you ask Steve to improve his diet and stop eating $1 hot dogs at the turn.

What if I hit a good shot in the direction I aimed, but my ball lands in a bunker or water hazard I didn’t know was there because I didn’t pay attention to the layout of the hole before teeing off?

Oh, not your fault at all. Pull it out of the sand or water and continue the hole like it didn’t happen. How were you supposed to know there was a stream there?

Does it count as kicking my ball onto the fairway if I pretend I didn’t see the ball in the rough and then kind of step on it/trip-kick it out onto the fairway? (Note: I really sell it and pretend to almost fall down.)

I mean, officially that would be a penalty and you would be forever marked a cheater. But, if you really sold it, going the extra mile should count for something, right? That’s just smart golf. You’re not trying if you’re not cheating, etc. No penalty!

I missed a two-foot put because I walked up real fast and hit it without lining the putt up or anything. I’m sure I probably would have made it had I concentrated. So the first one counts as having gone in, right?


What’s my score if I had a few beers and can’t remember what I got on a hole?

It was probably an eight or so, but let’s put you down for a par.

I found a pack of crackers deep in a pocket of my golf bag. I have no idea how long they have been in there. It’s definitely years because the wrapper is so aged I can’t see if there’s an expiration date on them. Plus, I keep my golf bag in my garage. There are mice in there. Can I eat the crackers?

Say “Anybody want a cracker?” to the other members of your foursome. Observe the person who eats one. If, after 10 minutes, he or she has not vomited and appears relatively healthy, feel free to consume the rest of the crackers.

If I accidentally hit my ball when I’m taking a practice shot, does that count as a stroke?

Yep. Well, officially: Yep. But you didn’t mean it, so: Nope. However, if your accidental shot turns out better than how you probably would have hit the shot intentionally –- be honest –- just take the accidental shot.

Does it count as hitting a fairway if my drive lands in an adjacent fairway?

Do you want it to? It sounds like you might need as much leeway as you can get when it comes to rules and stats to leave the course in a good mood. So … sure. It counts as hitting a fairway. Good job. You should maybe even keep that ball and put it on a shelf in your den to mark this momentous occasion. Unless it’s the last ball in your bag because you lost all of your other ones. It is, isn’t it? Ooof. Sorry.

My friends who don’t play golf say that golf isn’t a sport. Is it a sport?

Do you want it to be? Then … sure! Congratulations. You are an athlete.

What if I do something on the course and someone I’m playing with produces an official golf rulebook from his golf bag to tell me what I did was illegal?

Never play golf with that person again.