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The Rules of "Fore!"

The rules of golf are interesting on the whole subject of hitting people, which is covered under Rule 19 ("Ball in Motion Deflected or Stopped"). Distinctions are drawn depending on whether your ball has hit you, your partner or either of your caddies (in which case, under 19-2, it's a two-stroke penalty or, in match play, loss of hole); or it has hit an opponent or his caddie (in which case, under 19- 3, you have the option of replaying it, playing it where it lies, or taking a free drop under certain circumstances.

This last situation applied the one time I got hit that was truly comical. Three of us stood on a green watching our fourth hit from a bunker. The ball flew out, straight at us; we all ducked, but I felt it hit me in the ribs. I uncovered my head and looked vainly to find the ball. "He's a good shot!" said one guy with a laugh. "It's in your pocket!"

Sure enough, Bob's ball had hit me and dropped neatly into the pocket of my windbreaker. Since I was Bob's opponent, he was allowed to drop the ball on the green where I had been standing and play on. Had I been his partner, we'd have lost the hole.

The real combat zones are pro-ams, where you've got the dangerous combination of huge galleries and lousy golfers. Ask my friend Margaret, who got hit while sitting near the eighteenth green at Pebble Beach during a Bing Crosby event in the early 1980s. The ball hit her on the chest, but whatever pain or surprise she felt evaporated quickly when word reached her that the ball had been hit by Eastwood. Gee, she thought, maybe she'd meet the handsome actor. It turned out the ball had indeed been hit by Eastwood— Bob Eastwood, the journeyman pro.

Poor Gerald Ford is of course infamous for hitting errant shots. Bob Hope had a whole repertoire of Ford jokes: "You all know Jerry Ford—the most dangerous driver since Ben Hur" went one. Ford smarted but was a good sport about it and even joked that at his home club in Grand Rapids, Michigan, golfers no longer yelled "Fore!" but "Ford!" instead. When Ford played with Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush at the 1995 Bob Hope Pro-Am, he did indeed hit a spectator, but Bush was even more unlucky, hitting one on both the first and the fourteenth.

Even the pros hit people now and then. In the summer of 1992 Tom Watson, that legendary pure ball striker, sent people to the hospital in two straight majors. And Arnold Palmer actually used to say that he didn't mind hitting his ball too long.

There would always be some fan there to stop it.

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