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 Another Thing

Political games and soft underbellies
Ireland’s glittering array of golf stars may have an Olympic decision to make while, following Keegan Bradley’s major breakthrough with an over-size putter, golf’s rulers may be left to rue their non-decision

Following the major championship victories this past summer of Ireland’s Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke, there was much discussion about the possibility of Royal Portrush hosting the Open for the first time since 1951. Even leaving aside the problems the July date would cause with the traditional Ulster marching season, I guess the likeliest outcome is that eventually the suggestion will be found to have been kicked into the long grass – rather like the stuff, say, in the middle of Royal St George’s.

That’s at least one somewhat political issue involving golf.

Meanwhile, have you heard the one about the Irishmen and the Olympic Games? In an interesting piece in The Times a short while after the Open, Owen Slot brought attention to the fact that the aforementioned two champions – and fellow-Irishman and major winner, Graeme McDowell – may have a tricky decision to make in five years time when golf is reintroduced to the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Which country would they play for?

All three being from the north and thereby British (unlike Ireland’s other living major champion, Padraig Harrington), you might assume they would surely represent Britain provided they qualified to play for GB&I. But, first, in the Olympics it isn’t GB&I; it’s simply Great Britain. Furthermore, as amateur golfers and subsequently professionals competing in the World Cup, the country they would represent would, obviously, be Ireland. Golf in the Emerald Isle deals with partition, like rugby, by ignoring it.

Ignoring the potential problem (I admit to being tempted to say hot potato) is probably the best strategy for the titled trio right now. Other reasons aside, why go looking for controversy when there has to be strong chance that, come 2016, none of the three have qualified both for GB and for Ireland. But the issue is out there.

As Chubby Chandler, McIlroy’s manager, told Slot: “It wouldn’t be beyond the realms of possibility that Rory doesn’t play at all because he doesn’t know who to play for.” What would probably bother him most would be having a choice to make.

I WOULDN’T LIKE TO GUESS AT THE PERCENTAGE BUT MY BET would be that the majority of golfers feel that broomstick putters should never have been permitted by the Royal & Ancient Golf Club and the United States Golf Association; that the authorities were sleeping the slumber of the well-lunched when the abomination was allowed. (I have to confess to using one myself.) Now the cat is out of the bag, or rather that long and belly putters are out on tour as well as at the course you play, it will surely be mighty tough to legislate them out of golfers’ bags.

The topic received renewed exposure following Keegan Bradley’s victory in the USPGA Championship, which made him the first major winner perhaps not to have the driver as the longest club in his bag. The phenomenon is by no means new – Rocco Mediate was the first player to win with a long one on the PGA Tour, and that was 20 years ago – but Bradley’s triumph in Atlanta was the sixth PGA Tour title to be annexed with the help of an oversized putter in 2011. At the first playoff event of the season, the Barclays, 19 players carried long or belly putters. In 2010, the figure was six. At the second playoff event, Phil How-Did-He-Miss- That-Putt-On-The-11th-at-Sandwich Mickelson (where he was paired with Bradley) went to one. “I feel that I'm probably putting better with that putter than I would be the short putter,” he declared. He went on to shoot a 63 in the third round and Webb Simpson, another long-putter aficionado, won the tournament.

Equipment, hey – who’d be a golf administrator? I was reminded of the minefield this whole area can be while reading Adam Schupak’s book, Deane Beman: Golf’s Driving Force. At a PGA Tour event in 1977, less than a month after he had won the Open at Turnberry, less than four after he had won the Masters, it was found that the grooves on the clubs Tom Watson had played to win those championships were too wide. “I guess I just won the Masters and the British Open,” joked Jack Nicklaus, who had been second in both. By way of replacement, Watson sent for the clubs with which he’d won his first Open, at Carnoustie in 1975. They were illegal, too. ‘Watson Wins Need An Asterisk’ ran one newspaper headline.

Of course, Tom kept his titles. So will Keegan Bradley keep his even if the R&A and USGA take belated steps to change the laws of the game. The chief reaction in that circumstance would likely be along the lines of ‘What were they ever thinking?’ I, meanwhile, might then have to stick to tiddlywinks.

September 2011

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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