When golf came to the United States in the late 1800s the neophyte golfers did their best to adhere to the rules of St. Andrews. One of those rules was the stymie which had been a rule in Scotland for almost 300 years. At some point in the 1800s the rule was redefined to state that the stymie was only for match play when there was just one ball in play to each side.
The stymie rule was: That on the green the two golf balls had to remain in place unless they lay within six inches of each other. The golfer who was away, had to either play around or over the intervening ball. If the stymied player moved the other ball while playing his stroke the opponent could either replace the ball or play the ball from its new position. If the ball had ended up in the hole the player was deemed to have holed out with his previous stroke. To assist in measuring stymies the scorecards were six inches in length.
Most golfers were of the opinion that the rule was unfair and a matter of luck. In 1920 the USGA softened the rule a bit. With the new version the golfer who was stymied could concede the next stroke to an opponent who had laid the stymie. Thus, if an opponent’s ball was close to the hole it might be best to concede the next stroke rather than be stymied.
The next year (1921) the Western Golf Association abandoned the stymie rule completely. Sometime during that year the president of the USGA, Howard Whitney, met up with Joe Kirkwood, Sr., who was the greatest golf trick shot artist of all time. (Kirkwood was a longtime resident of Glenside, Pennsylvania and the professional at the Huntingdon Valley Country Club from 1938 to 1949.) Whitney watched Kirkwood demonstrate the art of negotiating a stymie. Upon witnessing that exhibition, Whitney decided that the stymie was an important part of golf.
At a meeting of the USGA at Pine Valley Golf Club in April 1922 the stymie was returned to the rules of golf as it was before 1920. The USGA and the R&A were once again in complete agreement on the stymie rule.
In 1938 the USGA modified the stymie rule again. If the obstructing ball lay within six inches of the hole the stymied golfer could ask to have the ball marked. During all of these changes by the USGA the R&A never altered its interpretation of the rule in any way.
In 1944 the PGA of America stopped using the stymie in its championship and many other golf organizations were simply ignoring the rule. In 1952, 30 years after Kirkwood had influenced its continued life in the USA, the stymie was removed from the rules of golf.