12 of the Weirdest Penalties in Golf History

Many weird rules situations arise all the time on the golf course. Not even the best golfers on the planet are immune from oddball rules scenarios and unusual penalties. Or from the brain-freezes that sometimes lead to those penalties.

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The Major Champion Fined for ... Farting

Golfer Tommy Bolt in 1955
Tommy Bolt: 'It wasn't me! ... OK, it was me.'. Bettmann/Getty Images

Tommy Bolt's nickname was "Terrible Tommy" because of his infamous on-course temper. Bolt threw tantrums and he threw clubs, and it was part of the show.

And, his reputation established, it was a show. Bolt once observed, "Always throw your clubs ahead of you. That way you don't have to waste energy going back to pick them up."

Bolt won the 1958 U.S. Open, and one year later he lived up to another of his nicknames: "Thunder" Bolt.

At the 1959 Memphis Invitational Open (what today is known as the FedEx-St. Jude Classic), Bolt felt a sudden ... intestinal urge. And not one to hold his, ahem, feelings in, Bolt let rip with a mighty wind.

Loud flatulence was, along with club-throwing, something of a habit with Bolt. But this time, tour officials had seen - and heard, and smelled - enough.

Following the round, Bolt was assessed a $250 fine for "conduct unbecoming a professional golfer." Making Tommy Bolt the only golfer in PGA Tour history (as far as anyone knows) penalized for farting.

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DQ for Missing Tee Time ... by Teeing Off Early

Golfer Ed 'Porky' Oliver in 1955.
Ed Oliver's nickname was Porky. Bettmann/Getty Images

Lots of golfers have been penalized or disqualified throughout the history of pro golf for missing their tee times. But that almost always means the golfer showed up late (or not at all).

Almost always.

At the 1940 U.S. Open, multiple players - six golfers in all - teed off early in the final round. They saw a weather report that indicated rain was on the way. Instead of waiting for their scheduled tee times, they decided, hey, why not just start now? And they did, teeing off about 30 minutes prior to their listed tee times.

The decision cost one of them a spot in a playoff.

The six golfers were Ky Laffoon, Claude Harmon, Johnny Bulla, Porky Oliver, Dutch Harrison and Duke Gibson.

It was Ed "Porky" Oliver who lost a spot in the playoff. Oliver finished at 287, tying Gene Sarazen and Lawson Little. But when the round was over, the USGA disqualified Oliver and the other five early starters.

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The US Open Winner Threatened with Jail Over Slow Play

From left, golfers Fred Robson, Fred McLeod, Edward Ray and Cyril Walker
Cyril Walker (far left) with (from right) Fred Robson, Fred McLeod and Ted Ray in 1926. Kirby/Tropical Press Agency/Getty Images

In 1924, Cyril Walker won the U.S. Open. In 1929, he was hauled off by cops for refusing to speed up his play at the Los Angeles Open.

This story is so interesting we have a separate article about it, but the gist is this: Walker, a painfully slow golfer, was told to speed up during the 1929 L.A. Open. He refused.

Tournament officials disqualified him. Walker kept right on playing. He refused to leave the course. So officials sent two policemen onto the course, who literally picked up Walker and carried him off. Come back, the cops warned, and Walker would be thrown in jail.

That's quite a DQ!

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The Legend Who Tin Cupped His Way to a 23 on One Hole

Golfer Tommy Armour photographed in the 1920s.
Tommy Armour in the 1920s. George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images

Penalties for hitting out of bounds are routine. But when it's a 3-time major winner, a Hall of Famer, a legend of the game - and when he keeps doing it, over and over, Tin Cup-style - that's weird.

At the 1927 Shawnee Open, Tommy Armour decided he wanted to tee off on a particular hole not by aiming down the fairway, but by playing a big draw: swinging the ball out to the right and drawing it back into the fairway.

So Armour - who was, Peter Alliss has written, "an obdurate and often pig-headed player" - did just that. His first drive didn't draw, and landed out of bounds. So did his second attempt. And his third.

Armour just kept going, knocking 10 consecutive drives out of bounds, before finally giving up on that whole "think I'll play a draw" plan. After all the penalty strokes, he wound up with a score of 23 - the highest-known score on a single hole in PGA Tour history.

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Then There Was the 35 On One Hole

Kel Nagle, British Open winner, Hall of Famer, once had a 35 on a single hole. But Nagle didn't actually take 35 strokes.

It was the 1969 Alcan Golfer of the Year Championship, an international event that was played several times in the late 1960s. In the second round, Nagle scored a 70 - 35 on the front nine, 35 on the back nine.

But when his marker wrote down Nagle's score, he mistakenly wrote the front-nine 35 in the space where Nagle's ninth-hole score should have gone.

Nagle signed the scorecard without catching the error, and the 35 on the ninth hole stood. Instead of 70, Nagle's score was 105.

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When a Practice-Swing Divot Hits Your Golf Ball

Man, that's gotta hurt. But it's happened a couple times recently on the pro tours.

What exactly happened? A pro golfer took a practice swing, and the practice swing dug up a divot. The divot flew forward and struck the golfer's golf ball.

Oopsie. That's a one-stroke penalty.

It happened on the Web.com Tour to Hudson Swafford at the 2013 Nationwide Children's Hospital Championship (video on YouTube) and to Justin Rose at the 2013 BMW Championship (video on YouTube).

You'll notice those two penalties happened the same year. Even better: They happened on consecutive days, first to Rose on the PGA Tour, the next day to Swafford on the Web.com Tour.

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Penalized for Putting With the Wrong End of the Putter

Andy Bean hits a shot during the final round of the SBC Classic at the Valencia Country Club on March 14, 2004
Andy Bean, swinging with the proper end of the golf club. Jeff Gross/Getty Images

In the third round of the 1983 Canadian Open, PGA Tour player Andy Bean was left with a tap-in putt on the 15th green. Goofing around, he flipped his putter upside down and knocked the ball in with the grip-end of the putter.

No, Andy, no. You can't do that. The Rules of Golf state that the ball must be struck at with the head of the club.

Two-stroke penalty. Bean then went out in the final round the next day and tied the course record with a 62. He finished in fourth place.

How many strokes behind? You guessed it: two.

"Yes, I am dumb," Bean said after the boo-boo. "What can I say, a dumb mistake is a dumb mistake."

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2-Stroke Penalty for Going to the Bathroom

This one happened at the 2017 NCAA Women's Championship, where the golfers are not allowed to ride in a cart during the stipulated round.

But two golfers really had to go tinkle. So each hopped a cart after finishing a hole and rode to the nearest on-course restroom.

The golfers in question were Sarah Cho of Northwestern and Kelly Nielsen of Kent State. They were playing in the same group, and Cho visited the potty after playing No. 18 (her ninth hole), Nielson after No. 13.

But when it comes to the use of carts, no matter how bad you gotta go, no means no.

The NCAA hit both players with 2-stroke penalties.

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An Expensive Blade of Grass

Steve Elkington blasts out of the sand trap during the 1993 Shark Shootout
Steve Elkington, doing what you're supposed to do in a bunker. Gary Newkirk/Getty Images

At the 1992 Swedish Open, Steve Elkington hit his ball into a bunker, which is a hazard. That means no testing of the ground, no moving or removing of impediments.

But while waiting for a fellow-competitor to play, and feeling kinda hungry, Elk absentmindedly reached down and plucked a blade of grass from within the hazard. He placed it between his lips and proceeded to chew away on it.

A rules official happened to be nearby, happened to see Elkington's action, and happened to assess a stroke penalty.

Said Elkington, "My stomach caused my brain not to work momentarily."

And how's this for irony: Elkington is allergic to grass.

(Not the only odd incident Elkington's been involved in. He once showed up in metal spikes for a U.S. Open sectional qualifier, having not read the rules sheet that informed participants of the host course's no-metal-spikes policy. Rather than change shoes, Elk threw a hissy fit and stormed out. He was DQ'd when he didn't show for his tee time.)

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Ray Floyd's Penalty for Hitting a Drive Into His Own Golf Bag

How can a golfer hit a drive into his own golf bag? You're probably picturing a player whose club nearly passes completely under a teed ball, popping the ball straight up in the air. Then, maybe, a strong gust of wind pushes the ball back, or to the side, and it plops down into the golfer's bag.

That would be a spectacular result, but it's not how Hall of Famer Raymond Floyd wound up penalized two strokes for hitting into his own golf bag.

The first round of the 1987 Players Championship was interrupted by rain. When the horn sounded stopping play, Floyd's caddie walked ahead on the 11th hole and dropped the golf bag in the rough, next to the area he figured Floyd's ball would land in the fairway.

When play resumed, Floyd took a driver and golf ball to the tee and teed off. And his ball bounded into the rough and rolled right into his own golf bag, which the caddie had left with its open end pointing back toward the tee.

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Always Read the Rule Sheet, Right Ryuji?

At the 2010 Mission Hills Star Trophy tournament in China, tournament officials, after a day of rain, implemented lift, clean and place rules. They put out a rules sheet for players explaining that anyone moving a golf ball had to place it within the length of one scorecard from its original position.

Ryuji Imada, alas, didn't read the rules sheet. And he assumed that the PGA Tour standard for lift, clean and place - placing the ball within one club-length - was being used.

So that's what he did: Imada picked up his golf ball and replaced it within one club-length. Thirteen times by the 12th hole.

That's 13 2-stroke penalties, 26 penalty strokes total. His score for the round was 97.

Always read the rule sheet!

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And Don't Forget to Register for the Tournament!

In the first round of the 1998 Buick Open on the PGA Tour, P.H. Horgan III shot a 1-under 71.

In the second round ... well, there was no second round for Horgan. Following the first round, he was disqualified. He had forgotten to fill out the registration forms when he arrived at the tournament.