A scramble can leave you with a bad taste, but this rule at least spiced it up

Another scramble, I thought. Why does every charity tournament have to be a scramble?

Well, I understand why. It’s because there invariably will be some players out there who probably shouldn’t be out there. If they all had to play their own ball, we’d be out there all day.

But as time has gone on, a scramble tastes like half-cooked eggs – at least to me. It’s not a full round of golf.

You don’t get to find out if you would have birdied that tough par-4. The group used your drive and second shot, but someone else made the putt.

Worse, you often don’t get to use your drive, even when you hit a big one. Most scrambles require that the group use at least three drives by each player, which requires strategy if you have some teammates who don’t hit the ball very far. It’s not always the longest drive; it’s a case of looking ahead and taking advantage of a good drive by a weaker player.

But the other part of it that bothers me is that it turns our great game into something resembling a video game. You’ve got to make birdie on just about every hole or you’re not going to win. Holes go by more quickly, but the fun of it also seems fleeting.

And as much as it helps to see everyone else putt before it’s your turn, it just doesn’t feel right. It feels like cheating.

I went ahead and played in this tournament, though, because it’s for a good cause and they have a great luncheon. OK, fine, I’ll scramble it up one more time. Maybe it will be enjoyable in some way.

And then I encountered a scramble rule I’d never seen before. Remember that part about having to use each player’s drive three times? In this event, it was four times.

That meant that there would be only two “wild-card” holes. In other words, we would have to find a way to use each player’s drive four times in the first 16 holes to have a choice of any drive we wanted on the last two. Otherwise, one of us – most likely someone who has a hard time hitting the ball – was going to face some awful pressure on the final holes.

I didn’t know whether this was good or bad. But it certainly made it more interesting.

The reason? We had two guys who couldn’t hit the ball very far and one who hit it erratically. It was obvious right from the start that we were going to have use their drives if they got it anywhere in play.

We compounded the problem when there were two par-3s over water in the first four holes and all three of them dumped their tee shot in the drink both times. That meant I had to keep mine dry. It also meant we would have to waste two of my drives on par-3s.

It happened again on the next par-3, No. 8. This was a longer hole, and my shot was 15 feet from the pin. No one else was on. We had no choice.

And then it happened twice more on par-3s on the back nine. Both times, it was a no-brainer. Both times, it really hurt the team because it meant my drives would be wasted on longer holes.

I was afforded up to six drives we could use, and only one of them came on a par-4. None came on a par-5. There were a couple of times where I easily could have gotten home in two from where I was on a par-5, but that wasn’t the ball we could play.

Not surprisingly, we made only three birdies all day and finished at 2 under par. Time and again, we had to use a drive that left us with an all-you-got shot to get to the green. On the 16th hole, we had to use a drive one fairway over because we still had two players who hadn’t reached the four-drive minimum. On the 18th, with out of bounds on both sides, the one who hit it erratically stood on the tee knowing that we had to use his drive, no matter what. Fortunately, he kept it in play this time.

It was a highly unsatisfying round, and not just because of the score. But my takeaway wasn’t what you would expect: It made me realize that I should treat every round like a scramble.

I was hitting driver on holes where I normally wouldn’t, and I was pounding it. The pressure was off. I knew we weren’t going to be able to use my drive on those holes, so I could just swing loose and easy. It didn’t matter if I hit it into trouble; we had another ball in play and that was the ball we were going to use. It was like practice.

If only it were that easy when I’m playing my own ball in a normal round. Yeesh, this game is so mental. No wonder it makes me feel so scrambled – whether I’m playing in one or not.


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