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Rules of the game? Bend, but not break

As much as we like to brag about the integrity of golf, there are unscrupulous scoundrels among us who, given the chance, bend the rules into pretzels.

Not many, but try to tell that to a friend of mine, who sees evil lurking behind every clubhouse door. Every year, he goes away for a week to play golf with a bunch of old pals and every year he comes home and says, "They cheat. Nobody says anything about it because they all cheat."

The gamblers at the old Eastwood Golf Course here solved a lot of the cheating problem when they ruled you could tee the ball up anywhere, including sand bunkers. How can you cheat if anything goes?

Probably there is some manipulating of handicaps, some "foot wedges," some finding of lost balls in some nice lies, things like that at any course, but for the most part, it remains an honest game.

Still, there are stories:

The late Lloyd Mangrum, a debonair Texan who played the PGA Tour for many years, liked to tell a story about a tournament round he played with his friend Jimmy Demaret, in which Mangrum was out of the running early.

"On one hole," said Mangrum, "I hit into a plowed field. 'What's this? I asked Demaret, "what's the ruling here?'

"That's gopher dust.' he said. "Just drop it over here."

Farther on there was a little clump of cedars about as high as your knees and my ball was plumb in the middle, down deep. "What's this?" I said.

"'Casual trees," Jimmy said. "Drop it over here."

We had a little gal along as a scorer, a nice lady. After I putted out, she said, "What did you take on that hole?" Before I could answer, Jimmy said, "Three." She said "Three?" I said, "I only hit it three times," and she said, "Oh," and put down a three.

Finally I wound up behind a barn, a great big barn. "What's this?" I asked Demaret.

"'Artificial obstruction," he said. "Carry it around the corner there and drop it.

"Say what you like about old Jimmy, but there's a man who really knows the rules."

Mangrum was joking, of course, but his story recalled one that was true. Bobby Jones' dad, known as Colonel, was serving as a rules committeeman on the 12th hole at the Augusta Masters many years ago when a player hit his tee shot on the par three into the sand that bordered Raes Creek at the time.The player asked for his options. The colonel said, "How do you stand?" and the player said he was 18 over par.

"Well," harrumphed the Colonel, "in that case, do whatever you want to do with it. You can tee it up for all I care."