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It’s all changing at the top
It’s not only the golf ball that’s undergoing revolutions in the game right now. Both on the course and off it, all sorts is happening

The year is barely a quarter of the way through but the world of golf administration has definitely got off to a shaky start. The first big shock came with the walk-out by David Fay, the executive director of the United States Golf Association, a famously good chap and wearer of bow-ties. It is the USGA, along with the R&A, which is responsible for most things in the world of golf, both professional and amateur.

Then blow me but in March it was announced that David Hill, the R&A’s Director of Championships, had resigned with immediate effect. What’s this? – such turmoil in the upper echelons of the game. If golf is widely regarded as a conservative sport, then you can make that tenfold when it comes to the perception of golf’s governing bodies.

I have often said that it only needs two or three new people on a committee, with different ideas and strong personalities, to force through changes in legislation, particularly when money is involved. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but they seem to operate on the theory that if it doesn't work out, they can always go back to the original parties who gave such good service before they were jettisoned. But how I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall at the USGA’s offices in Far Hills, New Jersey, and/or one similarly located in that grand R&A clubhouse at St Andrews.

But then nothing is sacrosanct. That has been witnessed by the slow strangulation of BBC Sport, and particularly its involvement in golf. Looking back, how often did I hear people say: “The BBC Sports Department?

That's impregnable.” Oh no it’s not. Gradually it has been eroded. That’s not to say the present incumbents don't wish to display golf to the public in the most brilliant way, but there are now half-a-dozen dedicated sports channels running pretty much 24 hours a day against the BBC's output, so it is easy to see how they have been overtaken.

Back to the sport itself. I remember that after he had come to the end of his great cricket career, Fred Trueman spent many hours, microphone in his hand, extolling the virtues of that wonderful game. When anything untoward happened out on the pitch, one of his favourite expressions was: “I just don't know what’s going off out there!” As I have watched some recent golf tournaments, I have understood exactly what he meant.

Please don’t run away with the idea that I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Luddite who can see nothing good in the world today. I have tried hard to move with the times but you can’t change every idea drilled into you when you’re young. So let’s take Alvaro Quiros and his victory at the Emirates Club in Dubai.

The Spaniard was his usual mercurial self, playing his typical crash-bang-wallop golf when suddenly, during the last round, extraordinary things began to happen. He had two eagles, a hole-inone, a handful of birdies, bogeys in assorted sizes, a ball stuck up a tree (identified through a pair of binoculars, no doubt taken off a Uboat commander), a few putts holed and a few putts missed – all very exciting. Quiros is a talented player has won a handful of tournaments and could be in the next Ryder Cup team, but he, like many others, still needs to learn how to play – when to attack, when to defend.

He was not alone. There were plenty of others trying to play shots which would have walked straight into the Guinness Book of Records if successful, while their caddies looked on, powerless to stop their man committing golfing hara-kiri.

I watch a lot of televised golf and although the game is now more sophisticated, players repeatedly make the same elementary mistakes and the commentators don’t help much. They’d have us believe the players are using rifles instead of golf clubs, and they are always “holding it up”, “fading it in”, “leaving it below the hole”, “leaving it on the upslope in the greenside bunker”, “controlling the spin” and so on and on.

I maintain that a ball struck straight into the middle of the green stands just as much chance of getting close to the hole as one where the player attempts the shot of the year. No matter what they say, you never know how much spin the ball is going to take, or whether it will take spin at all. Will it go left or right, will it stay where it lands, or will it bounce through? Much of golf is in the lap of the gods, and in my view it’s all the better for that.

My biggest disappointment lately has been watching Tiger Woods. I must say that he doesn’t seem to be making much effort to improve his professional persona. When interviewed, his answers to relatively sensible questions are met with a stony face, a sharp tongue and a look of complete boredom.

Oh Tiger, answering questions is now part of the game. You’re in the PR business. You’re paid millions of dollars to promote various products, and there you are looking as if you’ve got terminal piles. For the last 18 years I’ve marvelled at your skills, your determination and your ability to make things happen. Now I really don’t care what happens in your golfing life. You probably won’t end up as the pro or caddie master at some exotic Middle Eastern club, but given the economic situation, the cost of living and the other extraneous expenses you’ve taken on board over the past 18 months, I suppose anything could happen.

May 2011

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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