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Can spike marks on the green be repaired?
Do you know the feeling you get when you arrive at a destination that you've built up in your mind as the embodiment of perfection, only to find when you arrive that the place has been despoiled by the people who went there before you? Disgust and anger come immediately to mind. And so it is in that horrific moment when you arrive at the green, having braved the hazards and your own doubt with a well struck shot, only to find your 6 foot path to a birdie marred by a hideous set of spike marks.
Now, the green is an organic surface, canted and rolling where it does, not randomly but often with real malice, so you expect it to defend itself. But the carelessness and disregard of an earlier foursome should not be part of those defenses. So when you see those spike marks in your line you'll find yourself sorely tempted to perform a little maintenance.
But this is a cautionary tale. The Rules of Golf date back to 1744, perhaps not uncoincidentally the same year George Washington wrote his "Rules of Civility". They are a code as demanding and righteous as they come, based on a simple premise. That you must "play the ball as it lies, and the course as you find it." That uncomplicated stricture alone should be enough, but to make no mistake rule 16-c clarifies further - “...any other damage (except the pitch mark of a ball) to the putting green must not be repaired if it might assist the player in subsequent play of the hole.” Any damage. That most definitely includes those tracks the lead-foot foursome ahead of you left right in your line. And the fact that you’re putting for birdie grants you no additional house-keeping rights, no matter how fervently you appeal to the Universe for justice.
But who can say they've never been tempted? Those spike marks are not only an assault upon perfection, they represent an injustice. Your foiled expectation that once upon the green the result would closely follow your intent and execution. That on that pure surface, with the geometry and friction properly understood, a pure stroke would provide a pure result...only now some negligent nit-wit has spiked up the perfect line that you just happen to be seeing...seeing in that special way that Phil Mickelson sees it when he says “Man, I was just really seeing the line today.” Now, feeling potentially robbed of an opportunity to capitalize on your best shot of the day those spike marks become more than just an obstacle. They become an injustice you feel a need to correct! Resist this temptation.
You’ll be quick, nonchalant, who will notice, you say? The universe will notice! Your karma will notice! And even if nobody you are playing with notices, saving you a well deserved two-shot penalty, (or loss of the hole in match play) you can never erase the scar on your honor. Julius Cesar said “I love honor more than I fear death…or a 3 putt.” A brilliant general and strategist he was known to never improve his line tamping down a spike mark. And so it should be known of you as well.
Do you tamp down spike marks when they are in your line?
And speaking of Phil Mickelson, he knows about spike marks. I know he knows because of what happened when he won the Masters the first time. He jumped. Or rather he executed one of the lamest celebratory hops in history. Simply pathetic really. But I’m convinced he did so not because he’s a complete spaz, but because he's fundamentally a good guy. Even in that ultimate moment of pride and joy the moral imperative to prevent spiking up the green mitigated his urge to truly leap. And therein lies the other side of the ball marker. To spike up the green yourself can be as karmically hazardous as improving your line by tamping down another's tracks.
So when you find yourself fortunate enough to have escaped the vagaries, traps and potential humiliations out beyond the green and finally rest upon that tight-mown surface, please tread lightly lest your careless footfall obstruct some innocent's otherwise perfect line, or worse, tempt him into a fall from grace. And to ensure your legacy is a proud one, suffer the spike marks you find in your own line with courage and honor…and resist tamping them down.