August - 2 - 2010

Playing a few weeks ago with Ron Borg, we somehow started talking about stymies. Most people playing golf today have no idea what the heck a stymie is. I had to be honest and say I really didn't know much about them either.

It seems so simple now to mark your ball and move it out of the way of another players line on the green. But in the past if you were playing singles match play, and another players ball was more than six inches away, it was not moved and you had to be inventive to get your ball around it and into the hole. You literally could bang it out of the way if you wanted to (without a penalty) and your opponent then had the option of playing from this new position, or replacing it back to it's previous position. One problem with this "bang it out of the way" strategy is if you accidentally knocked it in the hole, your opponent's ball was considered to have holed out with his previous stroke.

Spelled differently-"stimy" by early golfers, the stymie was part of golf's original 13 rules, which were drawn up in 1744. At that time it was decided that only when balls were touching each other could one be lifted. The Gentlemen Golfers of Leith in 1775 adjusted this to "touching, or within six inches of each other".

After a few minor modifications over the years, in 1920 the United States Golf Association tested a modified stymie rule for one year allowing a stymied player to concede the opponent's next putt. The next change came in 1938, when the USGA began a two-year trial in which an obstructing ball that was within 6 inches of the hole could be moved regardless of the distance between the balls. After the trial period, the USGA made this rule permanent in 1941.

The PGA Championship (which was played under match-play) still used the stymie rule until 1951. The Royal and Ancient (R&A) differed with the United States Golf Association and never modified this change until they got together in 1952 and finally established a joint set of worldwide rules. Stymies were eliminated from the Rules of Golf in 1952.

Derek Duesler