By David Owen
A recent study proved something that most of us either knew already or could have figured out: people who have smartphones spend more time on the toilet than people who don't. Not long ago, I discovered another bathroom-stay-prolonger: the latest edition of "Decisions on the Rules of Golf."
"Decisions" is a heavily annotated version of golf's rule book, published every other year, in which the U.S. Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews attempt to "clarify matters that may not be entirely clear" from the rules themselves, based on issues they've adjudicated for golfers and rules officials. For example: "Is a worm, when half on top of the surface of the ground and half below, a loose impediment which may be removed? Or is it fixed and solidly embedded and therefore not a loose impediment." Answer: It's a loose impediment, and you may remove it. (Decision 23/8)
Reading "Decisions" makes you appreciate the challenge that rules officials face. It also painlessly increases your knowledge of the rules while providing an agreeable exercise in schadenfreude: "After a player putts, the flagstick attendant removes the flagstick and a knob attached to the top of the flagstick falls off. The knob strikes the player's moving ball and deflects it. What is the ruling?"
You can easily picture the situation: the clumsy moron tending the flag; the brilliant 50-foot putt that would have dropped if the detached knob hadn't struck it; the ensuing screams. And the answer is that the knob, once it broke off, became an outside agency rather than a part of the flagstick, so the player incurred no penalty under Rule 17-3a. Instead, "the stroke is canceled and the ball must be replaced." (Decision 17/9)
Here's one more: "A player misses a shot completely and, in swinging his club back, he accidentally knocks his ball backwards. . . . If the ball comes to rest out of bounds, how does the player proceed?"
The answer is in Decision 18-2a/22, but you'll have to look it up yourself. You can do that by ordering a spiral-bound paper copy for your own bathroom, or by consulting the online (and easily searchable) version of the "Rules and Decisions," on the U.S.G.A.'s website.