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The young magician from the orient

Now the dust has settled over the immaculate green acres of Augusta National, I thought it was time to put my six eggs into the mix regarding some things that happened during those wonderful four days that, in some way, detracted from the event.

First, there was the excitement of a 14-year-old, Tianlang Guan, qualifying to play in the Masters. The more I thought about that, the more fantastic it became. I thought if he managed two rounds of 82 it would be a remarkable achievement. At the end of the day, not only did he play all four rounds averaging 75 shots – which included that notorious penalty stroke – he did not have one single three-putt, an achievement that I feel ranks alongside that of Adam Scott, the winner.

Just look through the names of those that failed to qualify for the final 36 holes, one or two of whom had been through their usual chest-thumping acts, others having given off an aura of supreme confidence that their skill, temperament, a new putting stroke and magic driver would see them through. The only person I can think of in sporting history who said what he would do, and then did it successfully, was the great Mohammed Ali. I think some golf professionals could learn a lesson or two from him.

The penalty for slow play handed out to Tianlang Guan was totally justified. He was playing slowly, he had been warned. Everyone went through the correct procedures but, in the overall light of the complete event, the whole thing was a nonsense.

The rules relating to slow play are very plainly written but they cause confusion. The idea is to keep your place on the course, rather like travelling round the M25 at 30 mph. If everybody did it, everybody would keep their place. The first two or three matches of any tournament always get round relatively quickly, matches 4, 5, 6 tend to start to slow down.

These are the people who should be timed, and early, not waiting for the second nine holes before you establish that a gap has been built. It’s not good enough just keeping up with the game ahead of you if the game ahead is playing slowly. The Augusta officials allocated 4 hours 40 minutes for 18 holes, but the final groups were taking an hour and 20 minutes more and nobody did a thing about it.

The Tiger Woods ruling became rather farcical. All you golfers know what happened. He played a beautiful pitch to the 15th which hit the flagstick and went into the water. Then, all hell broke loose. Jack Nicklaus said 40 years ago that it’s important to know the rules so you can use them to your advantage. That’s exactly what Tiger Woods was doing. He looked at the situation and decided the course he took was giving him the best chance. Unfortunately, he missed out on those magical words “the ball shall be dropped as near as possible to the spot where it originally lay”. Should he have been disqualified? Normal practice says ‘yes’, but those in charge had made a ruling they thought covered everything regarding those situations where, through no fault of his or her own, a player is disqualified on no more than a technicality.

Yes, sometimes carelessness on their part, but nevertheless not worthy of disqualification.

Several classic rules incidents come to mind, such as Mark Roe and Jasper Parnevik putting their scores down on each other’s card instead of swapping them on the first tee. Result: both out of the Open Championship. There was Padraig Harrington being disqualified at The Belfry, Michael Campbell signing a card twice. All was correct but there was one signature missing, enough for disqualification, which is very hard to take when you’re five or six shots ahead.

Several players were vehement in their criticism of Woods at Augusta. Nick Faldo was almost apoplectic. “Oh he without sin cast the first stone” – how those words rang through my head as one after another they all piled on the bandwagon. But there was a little balance and some equally notable players thought Tiger had abided by the rules as they are and should not disqualify himself from the contest, as many urged. But then who would?

And what of the winner, Adam Scott? Beautiful ball striking, nerve holding steady, and warm words for Angel Cabrera, who came within a whisker of being champion for the second time. And it was yet another win for the long putter. What will happen now to Adam Scott, who has the longest putter in captivity? I feel the powers that be have left it too long to come to a decision to change the rules, and at the end of the day does it really matter? Some would say of course it does, because controlling one’s nerves is an integral part of the game. Doubtless the controversy will rumble on.

So it’s one down with three to go, and only Adam Scott in a position to win all four majors this season. Up next is the US Open in June but in the meantime my thoughts will linger over that young Chinese boy who managed to circumnavigate Augusta National for four rounds, averaging 75 strokes with no more than a handful of birdies, no three-putts and an average distance off the tee of about 260 yards. His performance could well open the floodgates of golf in China for the masses. Wouldn’t that be something?

June 2013

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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