McEwan: It's time to end the divot madness

McEwan: It’s time to end the divot madness

There’s something that’s been on my mind for some time and I’m just going to have to put it out there. I know some people aren’t going to like it but you know what? I’m okay with that. I need to be honest and “speak my truth” as the modern aphorism goes.

I think you should get free relief from fairway divots.

Actually, that’s not quite right. I don’t just think it. I firmly, deep in the very essence of my soul believe that you absolutely should, and I’ll explain why.

First up, I get it. Golf isn’t a game of “fair” and blah, blah, blah. That’s undeniably true. Equally, though, it shouldn’t be inherently unfair. That’s not right either. Purists love to embrace the unique challenge of the sport and how it’s “player versus course, not player versus player”. Is it not then contradictory to that argument for one player’s course to be fundamentally altered due to the laziness of other players? People love to talk about “protecting the field”. Punishing one golfer for another golfer’s laziness is categorically not doing that.

• “Golf media matters – now more than ever”

That’s what they are, too. Lazy. Not to mention inconsiderate. And selfish. Imagine gouging a slice out of the ground and deciding that, “No, I won’t fix that. I could… but I won’t.” That’s the kind of behavior some people seem to want to reward? wow.

It’s around this time in the discussion that somebody pipes up to demand that I “define a divot”. I promise you, dear reader, that one never, ever fails to make me smile. It appears that every single golfer on the planet can tell you exactly what is or isn’t a divot until it comes time to defend this ridiculous rule.

“Ach, that’s too bad,” they’ll say. “It looks like your ball’s gone into that divot.”

“Do I get a free drop?”

“How dO YoU kNoW iT’s A dIVoT tHo?!”

It’s so preposterous as to be laughable. Just for fun, let’s set aside the argument for a second. If I was to ask you – that’s you, the person reading this – if you know what a divot looks like, would you be incapable of answering? Would you really resort to “ah now, that depends on a number of different things…”? Of course you wouldn’t! You know what a divot is. Equally, you know what a divot’s not. Quit pretending to be dumb.

Then there are those who insist that changing the rule would leave it open to abuse and interpretation. Again, excuse me whilst I laugh. Ever since the Gentlemen Golfers of Edinburgh drew up the first formal rules of the game in Leith in 1744, golf has been an efficiently self-regulatory sport.

• “The day I realized the brutal truth about my game”

We have lived with the risk of entrusting those who play the sport to play honestly and fairly for centuries. But now, because of this very specific case, that’s suddenly an issue, as though bowing to common sense will suddenly let slip the cheating dogs of war. Do me a favour.

So, what’s the solution? It’s simple. If you find your ball in a fairway divot, you should be allowed to move the ball out of it and place it immediately before the start of the divot. I don’t see how that is in any way unreasonable.

Let me be absolutely clear on this: I’m only talking about free relief for balls that come to rest in fairway divots. I can’t say this enough, you should not be punished for hitting a fairway. It’s where you’re supposed to hit it. Find a divot somewhere off the fairway, tough. Too bad. It sucks but you shouldn’t be there. Miss the fairway, suffer the consequences.

And this is where it gets particularly fun because there’s always some smart person who says, ‘Yes, but what if you hit it down the middle of the fairway but it takes a funny bounce off a mound or something and bounces off into the rough? ‘ What these Mensa candidates cannot seem to get their heads around is the fact that a mound, for example, is part of the design of a golf course. It’s supposed to be there. A divot is not.

• “How I’ve learned to be okay with being ‘just another rubbish golfer'”

Of course, there’s another alternative that some in the ‘no relief’ camp like to toss out. “Why don’t you just learn how to hit the shot?” It’s not really the strongest marketing campaign, is it? You try telling somebody new to the game – somebody who’s still struggling to get the ball airborne on a consistent basis – that they’ve got to master another shot because that, apparently, is preferable to not rewarding the ignorance of their fellow players / competitors . Pass me those membership forms and sign me up!

Believe me, dear reader, I have considered as objectively as possible this from both sides. I have deliberated and debated it countless times over the past few years. Each time, I’ve arrived at the same conclusion: punishing golfers for other golfers’ laziness is contrary to the spirit of the game. It’s meant to be challenging and difficult and taxing and demanding. But not unfair. And this plainly is.

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