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I’m not a bad golfer, and so frequently my fellow lawyers will ask me how to play the game. Most golfing lawyers, when asked for such advice, do little more than hand the eager novice a copy of the United States Golf Association’s Rules of Golf (and Decisions on the Rules of Golf). This is like tossing a client who needs tax advice a copy of the Internal Revenue Code. I for one prefer to practice golf law with a little more care. In my experience, a newcomer who has been clued in by some sage hand to the critical Rules of Golf (and Decisions on the Rules of Golf) is already halfway to the putting green. So here goes. The first thing you need are some clubs. Bring your clubs with you to the golf course. Be very careful not to spit on them, or else you will be immediately disqualified. See USGA Decision 4-2 (Applying Saliva to Face of Club). Then buy some golf balls. Don’t spit on them either. Decision 5-2 (Foreign Material on Ball). Spitting is not allowed in golf. If you prefer to spit, try baseball. Carrying your (dry) clubs and balls, head out to the first tee. Swing the club and hit the ball. Then look at the club. If the ball is stuck to the face of the club, peel the ball off and drop it at the spot where the ball first stuck to the club. Take a two-stroke penalty. Rule 1-4 (Ball Adhering to Club Face After Stroke). If you’re lucky and the ball does not stick to the face of the club, then it must be in the air heading . . . somewhere. Watch it carefully. If your ball flies in the direction of another golfer who is in the middle of swinging his club, and that other golfer’s swing hits not only his ball but your ball too, and he knocks your ball out of bounds or into some dense thicket, then you have to take a one-stroke penalty and hit the ball again off the tee. Decision 19-1/2 (Player’s Ball Deflected by Stroke of Player in Another Group). So don’t hit your ball if some other duffer within range is about to hit his ball. After he’s finished, you may hit at him without penalty. This being the first hole, it is likely that your tee shot was errant, and ended up either in or next to the nearby clubhouse. The clubhouse now interferes with your next shot. Although you’ve paid good money to play this game, the Rules of Golf would penalize you two strokes if you moved the clubhouse out of the way. Rule 24-2 (Clubhouse an Immovable Obstruction; Two-Stroke Penalty for Moving It). It goes without saying that hitting a golf ball from within or around the clubhouse would needlessly endanger the well-being of innocent people. Lives should never be put at risk for a silly diversion like golf. Instead, the proper procedure is to open the clubhouse window first. Decision 24-2b/14 (Window of Clubhouse Opened and Ball Played Through Window). When playing full shots from inside the clubhouse through opened windows, remember to keep your left wrist stiff through the impact zone. Experience has taught me that shots played off clubhouse carpets tend to hook. I also advise you to yell “fore” immediately after you strike the ball, so that someone coming down the hall from the grillroom does not interfere with the line of flight of your shot. Now that you’ve escaped the clubhouse, go find your ball. Many times, it will be lying in the fork of a tree. Climb the tree to take your stance. Plant your feet on the weaker branch to take advantage of the “trampoline” effect, which will give your shot extra distance. You’ll notice that when you stand on the weaker branch, the branch will sag, having the effect of moving your ball closer to the ground. This is permissible; no penalty is incurred because even though your ball has moved closer to the earth, it hasn’t moved around in the tree. Movement of the golf ball is measured in trees. Decision 18/3 (Ball in Fork of Tree Moves in Relation to Ground But Not in Relation to Fork; No Penalty). Now go ahead and play your shot, remembering to turn your shoulders fully with a complete follow-through. But first check for litter. Sadly, sometimes trash will be left on our beautiful golf landscapes. Before hitting the ball, always examine the litter carefully to make sure that there are no plastic bags. It is essential not to hit your ball into a plastic bag. If the wind blows the bag with your ball in it, thus moving your ball, you have a real problem: Did the wind move the bag, thus moving the ball, or did the bag, which was being moved by the wind, move the ball? How did you do in your college philosophy class? If the wind moved the ball, drop the ball where the bag lies now; if the bag moved the ball, drop the ball where the bag lay initially. Decision 18-1/7 (Ball in Plastic Bag Moves When Bag Blown to New Position by Wind). If you get this problem wrong, take a one-stroke penalty. My stern advice is to never hit your ball into a plastic bag. Most of the top teaching pros emphasize the same point. Newbies, who can be unduly pessimistic, often ask me what happens when they swing at the ball and miss. Nothing happens. You missed. Oh, and as far as your score goes, the swing doesn’t count. Many accomplished players, even professionals, misunderstand this basic rule. If you intended to hit the ball and missed, then, sure, you must add one to your score. (I believe some USGA rule says that somewhere.) But who can say what intent lies hidden in the secret recesses of the human heart? Lawyers know that the best evidence of a person’s intent is his actual conduct. The fact that your swing actually missed the ball provides compelling evidence that you intended to miss. Even if you started your swing with the intention to hit your ball, you can change your intent at any time. Decision 14/1.5 (Intent to Strike Ball Ceases During Downswing; Club Not Stopped But Path of Clubhead Altered to Avoid Striking Ball). This is the best rule in all of golf. Personally, despite declaring my intention before the swing to strike the ball (my playing partners frequently ask me for such a declaration, for some reason), I often change my mind at the very last moment as the head of my club speeds down toward the ball. Golf is not a game that puts a premium on decisiveness, nor should it be. Instead, thoughtful, relaxed deliberation over one’s next shot is a traditional and enjoyable part of the sport. For many golfing lawyers, that agonizing contemplation continues right up to the moment just before the clubhead strikes the ball. Should I strike this ball or not? we ask ourselves repeatedly. Don’t decide too hastily. By about now your ball should be on the putting green. Unless, of course, some practical joker has moved the flagstick to the wrong green. When this happens, you get no relief and are left to your own devices to redirect your ball back to the correct green. Decision 1-4/3 (Flagstick Stuck Into Green Some Distance From Hole by Practical Joker). You can’t even use a compass. Decision 14-3/4 (Use of Compass to Find Hole Prohibited). Although I know many will differ, in my opinion this particular “practical joke” should not be tolerated, and is ruining our wonderful game. Please, for the good of us all, never include a practical joker in your foursome. So let’s assume your ball is on the correct putting green. It’s been a rough first hole. Nonetheless you must control your temper. Do not, when you pick up your ball and throw it into a lake, claim that the ball sucks. That’s a two-stroke penalty. Decision 5-3/3.5 (Player Lifts Ball on Putting Green, Throws Ball Into Lake and Then Announces That Ball Is Unfit for Play; Two-Stroke Penalty). I have also recently received many questions from beginning golfers about vegetable gardens being planted on putting greens. These are hard times, I answer, and groundskeepers must do what they can to provide. If you are hungry, you may, of course, pick the vegetables — unless they are mushrooms. Mushrooms have a sacred status to golfers and may not be touched without penalty. Decision 16-1a/15 (Mushroom Growing on Line of Putt Cannot Be Picked). So hit your putt toward the hole, using a steady stroke with minimal wrist action. Typically the ball will come close to going in, and then stop — tantalizingly — at the very edge of the hole. What is the correct procedure now? The usual response of most golfers is to throw their putters at the ball. There is no penalty for doing this, naturally, as this is just human instinct. Decision 1-2/4.5 (Player Leaves Putt Short and Instinctively Throws Putter at Ball; No Penalty). But here’s a twist: It will surprise many readers to learn that if the thrown putter actually hits the ball, then the golfer must record a penalty stroke. I will admit that many times I have hit the ball with my thrown putter (I have good aim), but have failed to add the requisite stroke. I’m sure others will have similar confessions to share. But lawyers will ask me: With the ball teetering on the hole’s edge, may the golfer jump up and down, thereby causing the tectonic plates beneath the earth’s surface to shift, thus inducing the golf ball to fall into the hole? Of course not. Decision 1-2/4 (Player Jumps Close to Hole to Jar the Earth and Cause Ball to Drop). Not only would this be cheating, but millions could die from the tidal wave you would release on China. The proper procedure with the ball at the edge of the cup is to cast your shadow over the ball. By blocking the sun, that planetary wonder that sustains all forms of life, eventually you will cause the grass to wilt beneath the ball, which will then tumble forward into the hole. The USGA has given its approval to this procedure. Decision 16-2/3 (Casting Shadow on Ball Overhanging Hole to Cause Ball to Fall Into Hole Permitted). I realize that some purists have been complaining about slow play caused by golfer-lawyers casting their deadly shadows on the grass. I say, let them wait. You’ll save par. Jeffrey Standenis a professor of law at Willamette University College of Law in Salem, Ore. He can be reached at [email protected].

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