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  • Alistair Tait

“Aye, there’s the rub”

Updated: Mar 10, 2021

Twenty-seventh February 1991 and Ian Woosnam and Peter Baker are grinding it out on Golf D’Esterel’s practice range in Latitudes Saint Raphael, France ahead of the Mediterranean Open. Woosnam introduces a wee game to spice things up: Call the shot with a 1-iron.

“Low draw,” Woosie says. He doesn’t tee the ball, but gives himself a decent lie and hits a textbook low draw.

Baker follows the soon-to-be Masters winner with a nice pass at his own ball, and then calls his own shot.

“High fade,” he says and cuts one up into the azure sky. Woosie follows with a text book high fade with the hardest club in the bag. He calls high draw, and both men do exactly that. Baker counters with low cut.

It seems the men have run out of options until Woosie decides to spice the game up. He rolls his ball into a divot, looks at his mate. and says:

“Watch this: high draw.”

Woosie proves why he’ll start a 48-week reign as world number approximately a month later. He hit that 1-iron out of that divot as if it was sitting on a tee. He did likewise with the low draw, high fade and low cut. To be fair to Baker, he acquitted himself fairly well too with those 1-iron shots out of divots, but it was obvious Woosie’s ball striking was better.

Woosnam, and Baker, would have had the same nonchalant reaction as Westwood did when his drive ended up in a divot on Bay Hill’s 18th fairway in the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. It’s a credit to Westwood’s class that he didn’t fume at how unfair this game can sometimes be. He took it in his stride. Hmmmm, wonder if Bryson DeChambeau would have had the same reaction. I hope so.

Where am I going with all of this? I’m heading for a defence of that old golf term “rub of the green.” It’s a term some in golf, especially anyone who took up the game post 1 January 2019, might not be familiar with. Those brilliant minds who rewrote the Rules of Golf not only consigned that evocative term “dormie” to the dustbins of rules history, they decided “rub of the green” was surplus to requirements too. You won't find it among the current "Definitions" section of the law book.

Talk about sacrilege! As today’s #JustSaying quote proves, even the world’s greatest playwright knew the importance of “rub of the green.”

The term was a mainstay of previous rule books. Indeed, it was enshrined in article 10 of the original 13 Rules the Honourable Company of Edinburgh golfers created in 1744. Article 10 reads:

“If a Ball be stopp’d by any person, Horse, Dog, or anything else, The Ball so stopp’d must be play’d where it lyes.”

The modern definition of “rub of the green” in the previous rule book in effect until 31 December 2018 reads:

“A ‘rub of the green’ occurs when a ball in motion is accidentally deflected or stopped by any outside agency.”

Before 2019, if a dog or a horse or anything else designated as an “outside agency” moved your ball then tough luck, or rub of the green; the ball had to be played where it lay. If that happens nowadays you get to replace your ball where it was or estimate where it was with no penalty. Presumably that’s why the R&A and USGA eradicated this historic term.

However, as anyone who plays the game seriously knows, “rub of the green” stood for so much more than just a ball deflected or stopped, including if your ball ends up in a divot in the fairway then it “must be play’d where it lyes.”

The outcry on social media to Westwood's lie suggests there are those who think otherwise. There were polls for people to vote in favour of getting relief when a ball lands in a divot.

Bet those old duffers of the Honourable Company would never have dreamed there would actually be those advocating relief from one of the most natural occurrences in a round of golf: a ball coming to rest in a divot.

Considering the penchant modern rules makers have for allowing the ball to be handled without penalty at almost every opportunity nowadays, we can’t be far away from the day when there WILL be relief if a ball comes to rest in a divot. Can you imagine the liberty certain players will take with that rule? They’ll be claiming relief whenever a ball ends up on a mere blemish on the grass. Referees will be required to carry magnifying glasses.

Why wait? Why not just allow players to place a ball on a tee up anywhere through the green, sorry, in the “general area” – keep up, Tait, for goodness sake – and be done with it?


#JustSaying: “Aye, there’s the rub.” William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act III, Scene I

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