By Stanley Abell

I’ve been tryin’ to get down to the Heart of the Matter
But my will gets weak
And my thoughts seem to scatter
But I think it’s about forgiveness 

Heart of the Matter ~Don Henley

I can’t prove it, but I think the person who wrote the rules of golf also wrote the rules of life. I think they were somewhere in the Highlands of Scotland after having one too many single-malt Scotches with the Bible open to Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy. “Okay, let’s see how inane and complicated I can make it…they’ll never be able to follow, hah!”

Whereas Moses took the almost 700 perplexing laws found in Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy and TRIED to create a manageable 10 (with a little help from God), golf has undergone no such reformation. Sure there are only 34 rules, but have you looked at them? There are 34 rules to each rule, and then special appendixes and such.

But then… there’s my dad, the Moses of local golf. Before I was ever defiled by the “official USGA” rules of golf, I learned a much simpler version of the game from my dad. He took the 34rules of golf and boiled them down to a very manageable three that made the game much more enjoyable.

First, I learned to play by what golf calls “winter rules” year round. This is a provision my dad taught that no matter how terrible the lie of your ball, you could improve it so you had a decent shot.

Second, the most important club in the bag (which most players are unaware) is the foot wedge. When no one is looking, simply kick the ball to a preferred position, thus enhancing you chances of success.

Last, but not least, Dad taught me the importance of a mulligan. A mulligan is a complete do-over of a shot. Consequently, if winter rules or foot wedge fail, employ the mulligan. You’re having the round of your life and you duck hook one into the woods, or chunk it in the water hazard, no problem… “I’d like to take my mulligan now.”

When dad and I first started playing together though, the mulligan had a hard-and-fast rule of its own—only one mulligan per round…that was sacrosanct. However, interestingly to me, as time wore on, and as Dad’s game waned, the rule around the mulligan got amended to two mulligans per round, three, even four if necessary.

For me, initially, this kind of took the fun out of the game. I had gotten to the point where I really didn’t think I needed the mulligan, period. Somewhere along the way though, I realized Dad’s winter rules end up being a nice rulebook for life.

In golf a mulligan is forgiveness… a do over. How many of us in life could use a do over every now and then… a little forgiveness? Moreover, if you’re like me, you get on a life course where you think your proverbial pile doesn’t stink, and you don’t think you need the mulligan. It is very likely that may be the very moment we most need the mulligan.

My dad did not live an easy life. He struggled with alcoholism. As such, winter rules meant survival for him. No matter how terrible the lie of your ball, you could improve it (AA Rule #6. We’re entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character). He found himself in more than his fair share of unplayable lies, and had to kick the ball to a new place (AA Rule #2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.)

And lastly, Dad came to a point of seeking and giving mulligans (AA Rules 8 & 9. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all—Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others).

700 to 34 to 3 to 1…forgiveness, a do-over. I think my dad was on to something. “I’d like to take my mulligan now.”