It's easy to look at the Rules of Golf as a nuisance that gets in the way of a good round. But there are instances when you can take advantage of the rules to shoot lower scores. Some examples:
You see a ball plugged in a hazard. You think the ball is yours and attempt to play it to save a penalty stroke. Turns out it was the wrong ball, and you incur a two-stroke penalty. Plus, you have to abandon that ball and proceed with your own ball.
What you could have done A revision to Rule 12-2 in 2008 allows you to mark and lift the ball in a hazard, without penalty, to identify it, after announcing your intention to a fellow-competitor. (If it's yours, you must replace it in the same lie.)
The ground between the tee markers is not level, so you have to tee the ball slightly below your feet. You then slice your shot out-of-bounds.
What you could have done You could've looked for a level spot because the teeing area extends two club-lengths behind the front of the markers (Definition, Teeing Ground).
Your ball lands in deep fescue next to a rock. You deem the ball unplayable, take a one-stroke penalty and drop the ball within two club-lengths from where it was, even though it still leaves your ball in deep rough.
What you could have done You have two other options when you deem the ball unplayable (Rule 28). You can replay the shot from the previous spot. Or you can drop the ball behind the point where the unplayable ball lies, keeping that point between the hole and the spot on which you drop the ball, with no limit to how far back you can go. Both options come with a one-stroke penalty, but at least you might get out of the high grass.
Your ball comes to rest in the rough, inches from the trunk of a tree that was recently chopped down by the superintendent's staff. The trunk is between you and the hole, so you chip out sideways and play on.
What you could have done If the tree trunk isn't embedded and is loose, it's considered a loose impediment and may be moved provided you don't move your ball (Definition, Loose Impediments). The size of the object isn't relevant (Decision 23-1/2).
Your ball is on a cartpath that is surrounded by gnarly rough, and you prepare to take relief. You measure one club-length from the path and drop the ball, but even a club-length of relief leaves you in a nasty lie.
What you could have done The "nearest point of relief" doesn't mean an area within one club-length of the path. It's the spot closest to where the ball lies, no nearer the hole, where the cartpath (or whatever condition from which you're taking relief) would no longer interfere with your stance (Definition, Nearest Point of Relief). So the drop area could be farther from the path than one club-length.
Q: We seem to have several members with vanity handicaps. It kills us in club matches. How would you deal with this?
A: I've found that about 9 percent of golfers with a USGA Handicap Index have a lower number than they should. To correct this problem, I suggest asking players to have their scorecards attested and returned for periodic audits by the Handicap Committee. (Note: The USGA Handicap System does not require that scorecards be returned to post a score.) Be sure to announce to members that periodic audits are being conducted. The audits will also reveal players who played but didn't post scores -- another sign of hiding bad rounds.
By Dean Knuth, Golf Digest Professional Advisor. Former senior director of the USGA handicap department, Knuth invented today's Course Rating and Slope system.