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Do You Know the Rules?

Written by Charlie Epps on 01 March 2010.

I learned a hard lesson about the Rules of Golf while playing in the 1978 Houston Open. But, everything always works out for the best. On Sunday night after the final round of the '78 Houston Open, I got a call from none other than Gary Player. He had just won the tournament, his third victory in a row, including the Masters. Instead of being out celebrating, he was more worried about a friend and wanted to know why I was disqualified from the event.

As we know, the great golfers—Palmer, Nicklaus, Player—all are great people. They're that way because they think of other people, often before they think of themselves. What happened, you ask? Well, Gary Player looked up at the scoreboard after he won the '78 Houston Open. He saw my name, and saw that I was DQ'ed.

He called me and said, "What happened, mate?"

I told him I made a mistake and broke a rule unintentionally, and the rules officials didn't inform me about it until Sunday, after I made the cut and posted my third-round score.

As I look back at it, I realize it was a good thing because it made me look more closely

at the rules—not only for myself but for my students and club members. After the Sunday night conversation with Gary Player, he left for New Orleans and won his fourth tournament in a row, the New Orleans Open.

The rule I had broken occurred on Friday afternoon on the North Course at The Woodlands. On the first hole, I hooked my drive into the woods. My caddie and I went up to the spot where we thought the ball was, and we looked and looked. Even some gallery members helped me look for it. I felt it was close to five minutes (the maximum amount of time allowed to look for a lost ball). I asked my caddie for a ball, and headed back to the tee box.

As I was walking back to the tee box to hit my third shot (counting the penalty stroke), they found my ball in a burrowing animal hole. I was too far from them to hear them calling for me, and I hit my second drive. When I got back to my caddie, he said, "Your ball is right here."

I called over a rules official and relayed the story. Since my ball was found in a burrowing animal hole, the rules call for a free drop. So the official gave me the free drop and allowed me to play from there. However, he made a mistake and so did I. I learned later that once you give up on looking for a ball, it is declared lost, no matter where (or when) you find your first ball.

I should have played the second ball I hit once I stopped looking for my first ball; that was the mistake. It must have been on Saturday, the next day, when one official started talking to another. They finally decided it was a bad ruling, and I was the one who suffered. I was disqualified, but not until right before I teed off on Sunday morning. It took two and half days for the officials to decide that I had broken a rule. I had no one to blame except myself.

The moral of the story to anyone getting ready to play in upcoming events is to brush up on the rules. Go to a rules seminar. Knowing the rules will always save you strokes. Trust me on this one.