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Thoughts on the rulers as well as the Rules

Although I’ve not participated in any game, sport, pastime other than golf, I’ve always taken an interest in the various players who participate, following their fortunes, recognising their skills, failures and sad moments. So with the remarkable demise of the English cricket team, I’ve been fascinated by the reams of newsprint offering reasons why everything went so wrong and which players had contributed to the team’s creaky demise. One stalwart, seemingly overcome by nervous tension and lack of confidence, decided to head for home, another decided to retire mid-stream when all hope of victory, or some semblance of salvation, had faded from view. Another, a giant of man, a bowler of divine ferocity who had gone out with such high hopes several weeks before, suddenly found himself unable to pitch the ball within the confines of the square. What a mess it all was. Perhaps things would be simpler if everyone knew who was in charge and respected that situation.

Back in my father’s day, everything in the world of professional golf was controlled by their association, the PGA.

Nobody ever attempted to rock the boat – well, until Henry Cotton came along. But he had a big advantage. He had married a woman of great wealth so, in a way, he was free to do his own thing. He was the first golfer I recall who admitted he wanted to be a star, one of the best players in the world. Some 60 or 70 years ago, nobody spoke about being “the best player in the world” and certainly OBEs, MBEs and CBEs and the like weren’t handed out to people just plying their trade. But as Cotton elevated himself, the others, including my father, climbed alongside him. That meant they were able to charge more for lessons, exhibition matches and general golfing services.

Cotton was never a committee man, although once or twice he appeared, giving his voice to a particular situation. But very few of the top players of the day did give their time and efforts to furthering the lives of their fellow professionals, which in a way was understandable. Whereas John Jacobs, the late lamented Bernard Hunt, David Thomas and yours truly tried our best to create two separate unions – the professional golfer and the golf professional. There needed to be new rules for tournament players and a change of direction in the lives of club professionals but we were a few years ahead of our time. We were a thorn in the side of a very top-heavy committee, an association run by many elderly club professionals who had no feel for the tournament world. More recently, Seve Ballesteros, who in death has become an even greater hero to millions, was a serious agitator. He battled with the European Tour, the PGA Tour and Ryder Cup committees, arguing about appearance money and the like. If Seve didn’t like the way the rules were, you’d know about it.

As for those other rules, the Rules of Golf, Henry Longhurst once said they should be able to be written on the back of a cigarette packet. Trial by television has crept in over the years, with eagle-eyed viewers, pad and pencil in hand, ever keen to spot a miscreant. Leading players always get the most attention. Why? Well, they have the lowest scores and their every move is scrutinised by the television cameras. And the leaders have to play the course when it’s in its worse condition – for example, with more spike marks on the greens at the end of a tournament round.

I have become an avid watcher of television and I often wonder who started the habit of tapping down, seemingly, any indentation once a player has holed out. It might have been Greg Norman, or was it Gary Player? You know, I don’t think I ever saw Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer tap down real or imaginary marks around the hole. Now everyone’s at it. Dab, dab, dab, tap, tap, tap. I wonder why? Why would you endeavour to make the course easier for those competitors coming up behind who are trying to beat your brains out? Is it to make them look good in the eyes of the spectators? ‘See what a good, honourable chap I am!’

Pity somebody didn’t tap that big spike mark down directly on the line of Simon Dyson when he played in the end-ofterm BMW bonanza in China last year. There he was, striding on to the green full of confidence, Persil-white trousers, flaxen hair, sunglasses: his trademark – he seems to do his best work in semi-gloom. He marked his ball then instantaneously smacked it down on the offending spike mark and moved away. It was so obvious, it must have been a mental aberration.

There’s no other way to explain it. Poor old Dyson! What an outcry. You’d have thought he’d murdered someone. He must have wondered ‘What on earth was I doing? I know I’m hyperactive but that was ridiculous.’

In the 1930s, the great cartoonist Tom Webster produced a drawing of my father dressed as Alice in Wonderland, clutching a bag with £300 printed on it, the first prize for winning the News of the World Matchplay at Purley Downs. Alongside was the kneeling figure of Alf Perry with a bucket of water and scrubbing brush, cleaning a golf ball. He, for some inexplicable reason, had picked up his ball and cleaned it. Penalty! You couldn’t do that then. So you see, rules indiscretions are nothing new.

The Rules of Golf, hey? So complicated at times; on other occasions quite simple. But sadly we never will get them written on the back of a cigarette packet. Whatever one of those is…

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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