Have You Had a Rub of the Green Lately?
By Bob Duncan
Have you really experienced a ‘Rub of the Green’ lately? Players often attribute a bad bounce or an unexplained shot to a rub of the green, but according to the 2012 Rules of Golf you probably haven’t had many rubs of the green, unless one of your friends has had some fun at your expense. The use of the phrase ‘Rub of the Green’ is often misused under current rules, but perhaps not based on its original intent.
According to the USGA Rules of Golf, a “rub of the green’’ occurs when a ball in motion is accidentally deflected or stopped by any outside agency (see Definition for Rub of the Green, and Rule 19-1). In a normal rub of the green, the ball shall be played as it lies.
If we go back a few years, the game of golf was originally built on integrity and a rub of the green was a significant element. According to phrases.org, the rub of the green was originally attributed to snooker commentators with an emphasis on luck, but prior to that it was actually first used in the game of bowls. A “rub” is any hindrance or impediment that diverts the bowl from its proper course. Referring to luck, these hindrances might not be considered in the play of a shot and may result in either good or bad bounces or rolls.
As golf developed in Scotland, it might seem that the Scots are ‘daring’ you to compete under marginal conditions, considering that links-style courses do not have the most pristine grass conditions or level fairways, and also feature strong winds and rain at times. For a time in the 1800’s the Rules of Golf included the phrase “Whatever happens to a ball by accident, must be reckoned a rub of the green”.
In contrast to the courses of Scotland, the courses in the United States went through a period of eliminating hindrances and impediments through improved maintenance practices and thereby taking bad luck out of the game. With improvements in turf grass and maintenance practices as well as the design and manufacture of clubs and balls, technology in golf has come a long way. In some cases technology has somewhat eclipsed older course designs. Technology has allowed designers to shrug conventional design, such as building fairways that compare to green conditions, making the game somewhat different than it was 100 years ago. And yet there are some signs that the maintenance trend has been slowed or even slightly reversed with some new links-hybrid designs and different grass conditions.
The lies players face on the course are more likely to be less than perfect because the ball is more likely to roll into lower positions. In fact, there is evidence that with any given lie there are more bad lies than good. Yet the push in golf has been to make every lie and shot consistent and eliminate the old ‘rub of the green’.
Perhaps the push is to try to make the player solely responsible for performance by competing on as ‘level’ a playing field as possible, and making the game more ‘fair’. Yet I imagine the Scots would say that if the competition is on, it is fair.
Another rule might be applicable in this case: Rule 6-1 states that “The player and his caddie are responsible for knowing the rules.” This includes knowing the course itself. Many tour players are known for their knowledge of a course, including yardages, hazards, and lines of play that are more safe or conservative.
And, when was the last time you hit a really good tee shot and found your ball in a divot, or a horrible lie? We all know Rule 13-1, which states that “The ball must be played as it lies.” How many players disregard that rule and move the ball out of the divot? While it’s not a rub of the green under the current rules, it is bad luck and it’s okay to call it a rub.
As my father would say, in his Scottish way, “Bad bounces happen. Deal with it. That’s life.” As much as he knew that he couldn’t always explain what happens, he was priming me for the fact that despite my best efforts, a bad bounce and the old ‘rub of the green’ will occur on occasion. It took me a long time to understand that what he ultimately wanted was for me to ‘figure it out’, and when I did I would be a better player!
Bob Duncan is the PGA Teaching Professional at the David McLay Kidd designed Tetherow Golf Club in Bend, Oregon. He has developed a new on-course playing method called the Golfer Positioning System, or GPS, and you can learn more on his website at bobduncangolf.com. Bob has custom fit over $1.6M in golf equipment and has given over 9,000 hours of instruction and coaching. Contact Bob at firstname.lastname@example.org.