Welcome to my third edition of Chips Shots, a weekly piece in which I awkwardly attempt to blend grammar and golf into one bipartisan column…a column without need of a $700 billion bailout.

The Tee Box Is Your Friend

This one is really, really simple. And let’s be honest: if I’m playing with you on a casual Saturday round and you break this rule, then no big deal. But if we’re in a tournament, a qualifier, or anything that slightly resembles an official match, I will call this on you so fast you won’t be able to blink. I’ve already told you about my fierce, angry and competitive side.

Playing in a tournament? Save your fellow competitors the drama, and tee it up behind the markers.

Playing in a tournament? Save your fellow competitors the drama, and tee it up behind the markers.

Here’s the deal. Every tee box has two markers. You’ve seen them. You know them well. Place your ball behind them, please. If you tee your ball up in front of the markers, it’s a two shot penalty. If you tee your ball up over two clublengths behind the markers, it’s a two shot penalty.

Now, you know me. I’m a polite guy. So I’m going to let you know that you’re in front of the markers before you hit the ball. And if that’s the case, you’re in good shape. Just move your ball back and swing away.

But let’s say I miss it, and Johnny the A-hole golfer decides not to notify you. You knock your drive down the middle, but that hardly matters because, you guessed it, you’ll have to take a two shot penalty and hit again, this time from behind the markers.

It’s really simple. Now, like I said: if we’re playing a casual round, then no big deal. But if you’re playing in a tournament, this is Tournament Golf 101. Just tee your ball behind the markers. Read USGA golf rule 11-4b. Spare everyone the drama.

Speaking of drama, let’s discuss semicolons.

The Semicolon: He’s Your Buddy, Too

The semicolon is like the bastard child of punctuation. Nobody wants to own up to it. Nobody wants to take the time to understand it. So the semicolon pretty much lives a solitary life.

The enigmatic semicolon. It mocks you.

The enigmatic semicolon. It mocks you.

I mean, really, in everyday writing, who uses the semicolon? Not that many people…because no one knows what the crap it does.

You can use the semicolon in myriad ways. But, in reality, you really never have to use the semicolon. Just use a period instead and you’ll be fine. I’ve read many writers, who in their attempt to be fancy and sophisticated, attempt to drop the random semicolon into sentences in which it had no place. That’s just silly.

Semicolons separate independent clauses that are closely related. They are not the same thing as colons, which introduce and define something. Here’s a situation in which a semicolon would not be used.

I love playing golf in the fall; the 18th hole at East Lake is difficult.

Now those are two random and unrelated sentences, but they are both independent clauses–meaning, they could both stand alone as sentences. So instead of a semicolon, you want to place a period there to make the sentence gramatically correct and more pleasing to nerds like me.

For a semicolon to make sense, the sentence would read something like this:

I love playing golf in the fall; the chill in the air always helps me play better.

The above clauses are a little more related in meaning, right? So you can see how the semicolon would work there. The clauses are both independent; they could stand alone. But the semicolon introduces a bit of synergy (corporate speak) between the two clauses in a way that the period can’t.

To be honest, you never have to use a semicolon, ever. It’s really just punctuation for the gramatically elite; they like to use it because they realize you don’t know how. So it makes them feel better to flex their grammatical muscles.

It’s not a colon, and it’s definitely not a comma. The semicolon is closest in relation to the period. But, before you use it, you’ve got remember to examine the relationship between the two clauses–are they related?

Quite simply, when in doubt, use the period. You can replace a semicolon with a period and you’ll be okay. But don’t replace a period with a semicolon if you’re not sure it’s correct…it’ll just look stupid.

And my lame explanation above is just one of the many, many, many ways to use the semicolon. Like most punctuation and rules of grammar, there’s tons of exceptions and other suffocating rules.

But, please, do feel free to ask questions and point out any blatant inconsistencies in my explanations. I know many of the rules, but I don’t promise to do the best job of explaining them.

So I’ll let the late, great Kurt Vonnegut close out today’s discussion on semicolons. Of this enigmatic punctation mark, Vonnegut said: “Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”

And that’s all I have to say about that.