Sixes and Sevens

And so, it is nearly upon us.

What? I hear you cry in your droves or in your ones if this is being read by my normal readership.

The Open? Tiger’s return? The long-awaited release of a super new, accurate, driver that anyone can hit?

Nah! None of the above!

What is about to happen is the first six-hole golf tournament on British soil in recent history. So what? I hear you yell in your droves or in your ones if this… okay, you know where that’s going…

It’s a really important event because believe it or not, it could be an embryonic change in not only the way we watch golf but also the way we play golf. Hard to believe, then read on…

The problem with society today and the reason this new six-hole format may well hit a home run, if you’ll excuse me mixing sports, is that today the human being has the retention span of a gnat and the boredom level of an amoeba. In a world where we touch to pay or swipe cards for anything and everything just because we’re too busy to deal with real money, time is obviously of the essence and anything that takes a long time runs the risk of turning off an audience. Golf takes a long time.

Now, I know, being the old fart that I am (you only have to read my other blog yourautumyears.com to know that) but being the old fart that I am, I’m sure a lot of you are expecting me to poo-poo the idea of this newfangled format and bemoan that these novel ideas will ruin our beloved game. But, far from it, I actually welcome any intervention that will make the game more popular and get the masses off of their Kardashian plus sized arses, and away from the comfy couch to take any sort of exercise. If nothing else, it might help unburden the NHS with the obese epidemic. Surprisingly, I’m not averse to rock music being played in the background either. I’ve long been a preacher of singing your favorite song in your head as you swing the club. It maintains a regular rhythm. Playing music in the background may be the answer to some of the golfing ills. It probably won’t stop your duck hook, or cure that vicious slice, but I promise you this; it is just as good as all these straps, harnesses and gimmicks we’re being sold by today’s know-all wacky professors of golf.

Although I’ll own up to not being totally on board with the chanting and cheering during the backswing, but then getting well into my old age, I’ll soon be deaf as a rock, so it won’t bother me at all.

Why change the game?

Many are just going to see this tournament as a bit of harmless fun. Trust me it is much more than that. Some think it’s just a moneymaking European tour gimmick. After all, they’re putting their weight wholeheartedly behind the idea. Keith Pelley, the tour’s chief executive has promised amphitheater stands around tees and greens, pyrotechnics, microphones on players, and is hoping to emulate cricket’s 20/20 success. But even acknowledging that the European Tour loses money in non-Ryder Cup years, this is more than just a mere moneymaking scheme to swell the European Tour’s coffers. This really is preparing us for the changes to come….

Pelley tells us, “We want to broaden the appeal of our sport to the millennial demographic and I think this format will do that, not only through the quick and exciting style of play but also with the interactive digital experience fans will enjoy on site and the innovative television coverage people will enjoy at home.

Ah, the new millennial demographic and there we have it, those born after the generation Xers and who have an inbred hatred for baby-boomers and all they stand for. Born after 1982 and before 2013, they can’t remember to breathe without their cell phone reminding them to do so, they binge watch a whole TV series in one sitting because they can’t wait a week to see the next episode and they believe that downloading music and films for free is their God-given right. It is these people ‘the powers that be’ are trying to attract.

So, let’s look at what the 20/20 tour has done for cricket. Yes, it has introduced the game of cricket to a new younger fan base. So, that’s got to be good, right? And yes, it brings in huge, excited crowds, with games regularly getting over 20,000 spectators. Grounds like Lords get in excess of 28,000 paying bottoms on their seats for every game. Compare that with the first-class County game attendances. Middlesex gets approximately that number for a whole season. A season that has been cut to a measly 14 matches long.

The four-day county version of the game is the lifeblood of the sport, supplying not only players but also the audience to five-day test matches and it is dying. Why, because as it’s impossible to binge watch Surrey vs. Somerset in a single sitting and the new audience, the millennial demographic, can’t commit to watching the four-day game. So, instead, they turn to the Big Bash and matches of a similar ilk.

Broadcasters are tired with half-empty stands, sending the message to viewers that there could be something better to watch on the other side. Sponsor and advertisers are beginning to feel that this is not a good spend of their money and the debate has already started on test cricket being cut from five days to four. I don’t see how first-class cricket will survive. It will die out, along with the last of the sandwich-eating, flask-pouring pensioners who watch it.

Cricket’s county championship can be likened the 72 holes four-day golf tournament – a long and laborious slog for anyone other than the passionately, diehard fanatics.

And as far as participation, let’s be honest, who has 4 hours to go play a round of golf? A quick six holes in an hour is just what the doctor ordered on all fronts. Think about it, a game of football – 90 minutes. Rugby – 80 minutes. 90 minutes to golf, sits right in there, doesn’t it?

Six holes squeezed into a long lunch break, perfect. For 18 holes, you need a full morning. Well, that’s what it feels like to the non-golfing partner, who is waiting at home for the golfer to return, so as a family they can all go swimming together.

So, not too far in the distant future, we may have to accept that this 6hole Frankenstein golf format as the norm. We may even have to say goodbye to the odd tour events or two. I’m not suggesting for one moment that The Open or The Masters are in peril, of course not. But events like the Scottish Open where only a little over 40,000 people attended last year’s event, may find it difficult to find sponsors. And it should also be remembered that for the final round of the 2015 Open, Sky’s first year, the viewing numbers dropped by some 75%.

Foul, I hear you calling in your droves, or at least one of you… Our game is sacrosanct and we love it. But that’s the problem with golf; it’s sporting marmite. For all of us who love it and believe it’s the most wonderful game on this planet, many, many, many more couldn’t give a tinker’s cuss about the game. Some don’t even consider it a sport. And while personally, I wouldn’t mind going back to hickory shafts and the gutta-percha ball, I totally understand Mr. Pelley’s attempts to reinvent a game that in essence hasn’t changed since in1892 when the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews and the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers changed The Open from a 36hole to a 72-hole format.

Without an audience, tournament sponsorship will dry up. And that audience could easily be evaporated because let’s be honest, while the leader board in any tournament can often be exciting, back down the field can feel a bit like a procession. Think about The Masters, the greatest tournament on the calendar, when does it really become ‘must watch’ TV? The last 9 holes! Or course, we need the previous 63 holes to bring us to that point, but seriously, are the first 3 and a half rounds ‘can’t miss, edge of your seat’ stuff?

The 6hole version is cheaper to televise, anyone can see that. Cameras for 6hole coverage, as opposed to 18hole, would immediately seem to be a third of the price and if the truth was known it’s probably cheaper than that. This also opens the opportunity for the advertising agencies to sell more space to a wider market that can afford to be involved with a 6hole competition but could never run to attaching themselves to the original 72hole format. And trust me. I can assure you, selling 3 sets of six holes will always make more money that selling 18 holes, that’s just the way it works. Making a mockery of Aristotle’s theory that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” not when it’s selling advertising space on 18 holes, it isn’t.

Things change… we have to accept that. Some 20 years ago a friend of mine told me I was nuts when I argued that Textspeak would change the language of the future. Last week he texted me — “U wer rght. I wz wrng”

All sports have to reinvent themselves; we should remember that Ronnie O’Sullivan plies his trade on what until the 60’s was called a Billiard Table, not as it is today, a snooker table. Billiards being the biggest sport of the time, but being a sometimes long and laborious game had to give way in the popularity stakes, mainly thanks to the TV series Pot Black, to the more spectator attractive snooker.

So, on May 6 at the Centurion Golf Club just outside St. Alban’s in Hertfordshire, Pelley’s desire to take the game to a new audience takes its baby steps… but this will not be the last we see of it.

The only downfall I see is The Open had 45,000 spectators for the last day’s play. I struggle to see how that many people can fit around six holes or more’s the point, that many people fitted around six holes would surely struggle to see — if you see what I mean.

Hey, but who knows, this may eventually lead to allowing denim on the links, short shorts, short socks, and Woohoo, women playing any course and at any time of the day they want to.

Personally, I urge Mr. Pelley to go all the way, let’s have a 6-hole nude contest, then we’d really see who swings it the best and I’m sure there are droves of you out there that would disagree with that.

It’s just a card… isn’t it?

Being the diehard Tottenham Hotspur fan that I am, I really have nothing against Ian Poulter other than his support that lot at the far end of the Tottenham High Road. Oh, and of course his dress sense, which has, on occasions, had me reaching for the sick bucket. But on the golf course, I find him a most enjoyable watch. He certainly doesn’t leave anything in the locker room and he clearly wears his heart on his sleeve. Even if it’s a sleeve no longer made by his clothing company, IJP Design, as he had to close the company doors in March of this year, after 10 years of business. Rumour has it the failing company has been hemorrhaging cash for a good few years, finding it hard to get a foothold in the competitive golf clothing market. But then, given Poulter’s acquired fashion sense, you wonder who convinced him to invest his hard earned into a range of clothing in the first instance.

But this outpouring of melancholy over the fact that he could well lose his place on the PGA tour, having slipped to #206 in the Official World Golf Rankings, is I’m afraid, a little over the top for me.

Yes, he’s been hurt, a nasty foot injury that made him sit out a chunk of last year. But yes, he’s had the required tour dispensation from playing because of the injury. The same as anyone else would get in a similar position. And yes, it probably does take longer than the ten-event extension that he was given to help him regain his form and earn the required money to retain his card. But rules are rules we can’t just change them to suit a tour favorite.

Although there is an old golfing adage, “beware of the sick man.” Often times, golfers not feeling at the top of their physical condition are able to cobble together a decent round or two. Didn’t Rory recently shoot a 68 while battling a virulent stomach bug? And let’s not forget Justin’s Day’s problems. I believe it’s because playing within your natural capabilities can work, sometimes.

Personally, I don’t know Poulter, we wouldn’t have much in common to talk about if we met, not with him supporting the red and white side of North London and me supporting the blue and white, but I’m sure that he isn’t looking for any special treatment. So, I don’t have the same sympathy for Poults, as he’s known by his friends, as a lot of the golfing fraternity do and I’m sure he wouldn’t want me to. After all, I haven’t heard one moan or groan from the golfer himself, he just seems to be going about his business. A business which has netted him $36 million in earnings, not so shabby for thwacking the little white sphere around the best golf courses in the world, another reason not to feel too much sympathy.

For him to save himself from dropping into golfing abyss and to secure his card the sums are simple; he needs to win $30,624 at the Valero Texas Open, which equates to a top 30 finish. But, it started badly, having shot a 3 over par 75 in the first round, leaving him way down the field. So, how I see it is he has to shoot something pretty remarkable today, just to make the cut.

It cannot be denied that it’s proving a pretty horrid time for the one-time assistant pro from Chesfield Downs Golf Club. If he fails to make the numbers in Texas, then he’ll have to rely on sponsor’s invitations to get starts for the coming season. Yes, there will be some, but probably not enough. Some commentators are saying it could affect his ability to keep up his Florida lifestyle and his collection of expensive cars. But, I doubt that. I can’t see his bank balance being depleted so much that we will see his Ferrari California in The Auto Trader, anytime soon.

The big blow for him must be mentally and a huge dent to his ego. He does have an ego. And no matter how much of a brave face Poults puts on it, as is his normal style, this has still got to hurt. After all, he’s been competing on the PGA since 2005.

The options he is left with are all rather on the unappetizing side. Play on the web.com tour, where the prize money and the competition isn’t too exciting. The leading money winner on this tour has only pocketed $171k, barely enough to buy four new tires for Poulter’s beloved Bentley Continental GT.

Playing on the Web.com tour would be rather akin to his beloved Arsenal dropping down to Evo-stick Southern League and mixing it week in week out with teams like Biggleswade Town, Hayes&Yeading Utd, and Merthyr Town, but it is one way to regain his card. Although it has to be said, not everyone bounces straight back up. Some who have slipped this far down the golfing rankings have struggled to recover, Jeff Overton for one, remember him? He played in the 2010 Ryder cup and he is currently wallowing at # 826 in the Official World golf Rankings.

Failing that, Poulter could make the occasional trip out to Asia and probably top up the old bank balance a little. But I wonder how welcome he would be having called first-year Japanese pro Hideki Matsuyama an “idiot” on Twitter during the WGC-Cadillac Championship and although probably right in his condemnation of the rookie golfer, not going to play in Asia as a PGAtour card holder, and out of necessity rather than choice, some would consider that karma.

Other than that it is likely we will see a lot more of him in Europe. He’ll just have to slum it with the likes of Edoardo Molinari, Jordan Smith, Chris Hanson and David Drysdale, which I doubt he’d mind too much and I know the crowds would love to see him back on a regular basis.

Let’s be honest, what’s not to love about watching Ian Poulter marching down the fairway looking like he wants to fight or love everyone, and sometimes both at the same time. Yes, Milton Keynes doesn’t have the same je ne sais quoi as Orlando… but it also, doesn’t have crocodiles. I doubt he’ll ever get bitten on the arse by a concrete cow. In fact, the only thing that Poulter would probably hate about coming home to play the European tour full time would be having to watch the mighty Tottenham look down from on high at his less than average Gooners. Sorry about that Poults. Couldn’t resist. I may be a little previous, but welcome, home buddy.

Just who wears the trousers?

Like most golf fans, I stayed up to the early hours Monday morning to watch the genial Spaniard, Sergio Garcia, don his Green Jacket.

Although I have to say, it always irks me a little when I know that the celebratory moment of the past champion bedecking the newly crowned champion with the Pantone 342-coloured jacket has to actually happen twice. Once in the Butler Cabin for the sake of the TV audience and then after that deed is done, it has to be repeated out on the golf course in front of the gallery and club members, for the presentation of the trophy. To me, it all seems rather bogus, especially after the harsh reality of Amen corner and the brutality of the back nine. Once the green jacket is got, it should stay got and not have to be presented twice. I believe the TV audiences are grown up enough to handle watching the televised jacket swapping malarkey just once, probably live by the 18th green and without having to listen to the benign questions posed by Jim Nantz Dans la Cabine. On that note, how well did leading amateur Stewart Hagestad express himself, it puts some of our premier league millionaires to shame, doesn’t it?

But that said I doubt if there was a dry eye in the house by the time 37year-old Sergio slipped his arm into the sleeve of that coveted jacket – Well, the houses on this side of the pond. I’m sure if the eyes in the houses of those Star Spangled Banner waving, “get in the hole” shouting American side were weeping, it was probably because their boys, Fowler and Spieth, didn’t show up for the last round party, even though they had access all areas invitations.

Personally, I only watch the Masters and The Open on TV. For me, they are the only two events that mean anything. You can take your US Open and the PGA Championship and toss them into the water at the 17th on Sawgrass’ stadium course, for all I care. Even though the Masters is the Johnny-Come-Lately to the Grand Slam line-up, it still means the most of all the American Tournaments and ranks very close to The Open Championship as being the one event that every golfer wants to win.

So, I am exceptionally happy that Sergio eventually popped his major cherry on his 74th attempt and on what would have been Seve Ballesteros 60th birthday. Although, I have to add, had Justin Rose won, I would have been almost as exceptionally happy. I’m also pleased that following in the footsteps of his heroes Seve and José, it is the Master’s trophy, a depiction of the Augusta clubhouse, that will have Sergio’s name engraved on it. Now, let’s hope that having secured the first leg of the Grand Slam quadruplet that he can go on and make a fist at securing the other three titles, and claim that rarity of rarities, a calendar-year Grand Slam, thus casting a shadow over the others who have only ever managed one miserly career major.

But what really interested me about the Sergio victory, even more than the how he fought through his demons. Who the hell gave him a driver to hit off of the 13th tee? For a moment, all I could see was another Jean van De Velde unraveling moment. No, what interested me most, is the constant mention by so many commentators that his win was due, in part, to his soon to be, wife, Angela Akins, who has calmed the boy from Borriol, Castellón, lifestyle.

Now, either this is lazy reporting by the golfing media, just repeating the same old tittle-tattle, which I doubt, or there must be a tangible truth in this story and in fact, Ms. Akins has been the soothing influence in Sergio’s life which he needed to help him break his major winning duck.

Although I’ve met Sergio, very briefly when he was a young man, I do not know him personally, but I never imagined or considered that the young Spaniard was either a rebel-rouser or a major quaffer of the Rioja. If anything, the somewhat stereotypical image I held of him was the caring Sergio, helping his dear old aged granny, all dressed in black, along the cobbled hilly streets of an Andalucía village, heading towards the awaiting Catholic Church, with its bells pealing and doors opened on a sunny Sunday morning. After all, I’ve never seen his drunken antics splashed across the tabloids, or kiss and tell stories of debauchery with ladies of the night reported, and I don’t ever remember him incurring any major injuries after being hit with a nine iron by a jealous partner on discovering his philandering. So, just what part of Sergio’s life did this angel from the Golf channel calm?

I was all of a loss… but then I recalled Amor Vincit Omnia, the Caravaggio painting — Love conquers all. Could it be true? Has Sergio’s love for this beauty quelled his nerves enough that he can now be considered a contender in Major competitions?

It came as quite a shock to me to realize that as well as having one of the best short games in the business, champions must also have the all stabilizing ‘her-indoors’ to make winning possible.

So, I did me a little checking and when I say a little checking, I mean I casually scanned Wikipedia for a previous winners list and it does seem that a staple of being a major winner is indeedy, being in a happy relationship.

Past Master’s winners, all the way back to 1976 and the champion Raymond Floyd, who is, in reality, the only winner that anyone could actually call a playboy, were all happily ensconced in a relationship. Well, with the exception of 2009 and Angel Cabrera, but who the hell knows what goes on in that guy’s love life?

Even Tiger, during his most prolific years, seemed at least, happily married. And as if evidence was needed as to the importance of a committed home life, we all know what happened to him when the wheels came off his matrimony bus.

This is all the proof one needs to confirm that golfers who chase birdies around the golf course are inevitably better players than golfers who chase birdies around the bedroom.

And to my mind, solves one of the great-unsolved golfing mysteries. Why Mr. 2-times married, babe magnet, Colin Montgomery never became 2-times major champion, Colin Montgomery. Clearly, had old sourpuss got it right at home, he may have faired better on the links.

Of course, we have yet to have disclosed what method is used to comfort the golfers frayed nerves, are we to assume that the little lady waiting at the back of the 18th has dinner ready on the table for when they get home, or does she have a little something more appealing cooking in the boudoir? Either way, forget swinging it flat, or taking it back inside the line, even overlook the putting claw grip, or deconstructing your arc, it appears, all that’s needed to be a great golfer is the love of a good woman.

Which conversely, brings me to the flip side argument of this intriguing happy partnership scenario.

As Sergio was thwacking his way around to his 70 on Saturday, supported by his lovely wife to be, across the pond on the outskirts of a city called Liverpool, at a little-known racetrack called Aintree, a bay gelding named, One For Arthur was romping its way to victory having jumped 32 excessively high fences in the most famous of British horse races.

I bring this up only as the owners of the horse were two ladies, Belinda McClung and Deborah Thomson who collectively call themselves The Golf Widows. Which seems to be diametrically opposite to the Angela Akins stance.

So, the question I’m posing is, what makes some partners golfing redeemers, while others are golfing widows.

Of course, I understand that the husbands of Belinda and Deborah could never reach the dizzying heights of winning a Major, but according to the Masters reporting, maybe with the right loving environment at home, they could have made it to the dizzying heights of the club champions. If only the wives had followed Ms. Akin’s lead and supported their husband’s golfing exploits instead of running off and buying some old nag that just happened to win the Grand National.

How selfish is that?

Can you imagine if Mrs. Nicklaus, Player, and Palmer got tired of their spouse’s endless thrashing around the fairways and went off and bought themselves a thoroughbred? We could have ended up with that great golfing Triumvirate amassing far fewer majors.

What I’m saying here is it seems the endless hours on the practice strip means nothing unless your spouse is right there by your side. You may be gripping the club, but it’s your missus who is definitely gripping your balls, whether they be Titleist, Wilson or Srixon.

I wish the future Mr. and Mrs. Garcia nothing but wedded bliss and life long happiness and I totally get that a relaxed mind is a productive mind… but C’mon, the real reason Sergio won was the years of hitting golf balls every day of his life, otherwise the moral of this story has to be, behind every great man there is an even greater woman, who gave up her career just to make her man a champion.

And you thought the only sexist ideology in golf was that some clubs don’t allow women members. Ha!

I’ve got your card marked.

As everyone else had written about Lexi Thompson’s four-shot penalty, I decided not to, but now that Phil Mic and the Golden Bear have added their two penn’th — So, I’ve widened my take on the subject a little…

Two shots for incorrectly marking the ball on the green and two further shots for signing for an incorrect score. As most people believe this is a total joke.

However, what interests me about the situation is the focus seemed to be aimed at the armchair referees and their relevance, or lack of it, to the game. If truth be known, probably more due to Tiger’s tweet calling out the striped shirt home umpires than the incidence itself.

With this, I totally disagree.

Okay, let’s get into the real world …

Firstly, every golf club has its cheats, of course, it does. Cheating is easy when you’re way out on the 10th in the local club fourball with no one watching you but the squirrels, but on the multi-camera pro tour? Not so much.

Now, as far as I’m aware, no one is actually accusing Ms. Thompson of cheating, especially as her putt was but a mere subway tap in. So, not much advantage gained by moving the ball a few blades of grass nearer the hole. And let me promise you if Ms. Thompson were disposed to breaking the rules regularly, her playing partners, and those monitoring the game would be more than aware of any deceitful habits that she may have. I don’t know Ms. Thompson, her character or conduct, but as I don’t see any vitriolic carping about her being caught at long last from the other pros, so one must assume this was an innocent mistake on her part. Uncomfortable to talk about, yes, but deliberate cheating must first, always be taken out of the equation when discussing rule breaking.

As a young assistant professional, I, and my fellow assistants were more than aware who the dodgy characters were in any competition that we played. If we were drawn to partner them, the senior pros in the field, forewarned us with a crafty word in the ear, to keep a strict eye on their antics, especially in the rough. I can recall two very famous dodgy, prone to gambling pros from the 70s, who weren’t averse to, let’s say, bending the rules. In their many years of playing, even in the midst of the soggy winter months, they never seemed to lose a ball or have a bad lie.

So, here’s my problem with the Lexi Thompson affair… given that cheating is off the table, we are left with an innocent infringement of the rules. So, let’s stop picking on the La-Z-Boy vigilantes that noticed the ball-marking misdemeanor. Far from moaning about them, we should be congratulating them for their Sherlock Holmes instincts.

They are not the problem! The rules are. And Tiger, not for the first time, got it wrong. To start with, marking the ball on the green by its very nature is a hit a miss affair.

The rules are confusing…

“When permitted by the Rules the position of the ball should be marked by placing a ball-marker, small coin or similar, immediately behind it. Marking behind the ball is recommended, but to the side or in front is permissible. NB in front may be deemed influencing the movement of the ball if the grass is pressed down. Note there is no penalty if a player uses some other object to mark their ball (e.g. their putter head, a tee or a loose impediment), providing it is physically marked; it is not sufficient to use an existing mark on the ground to mark the position of a ball.”

Until the governing bodies introduce a regulated ball maker it always will remain hit and miss. Some people will use a marker, some will use a lucky dime or sixpence, a tee peg, and I’ve even played with someone who used a silver dollar. I’m sure, in India a Rupee is tossed down, in France a Euro and in Greece an old Drachma, if anyone can find one going spare. And by the way, the ball maker with a small spike that we all buy from the pro-shop or that is often attached to a glove is probably the least effective way of marking the ball. You can never get that type of marker close enough to the ball. Using a small coin is by far the better option. And if we are totally honest, the ball is rarely, if ever, put back in exactly the same position. No matter how we try, there always has to be a small amount of tolerance when replacing the ball.

I am amazed that in this technological world that we live, that some bright spark has not come up with a simple cheap ball marker that would guarantee that the ball is marked and replaced in the same spot every time. It could be a glorious money-spinner for the powers-to-be. Each marker could be personalized with company decals, but imagine if we all had to spend a little bit of our hard earned on purchasing the new uniformed official accurate marker.

That said, Ms. Thompson clearly erred when replacing her ball so got a deserved two-shot penalty, but the big problem comes with the additional two shots for signing an incorrect scorecard – this seems nothing more than gratuitous meanness.

After all, if Ms. Thompson was unaware that she had a two-point penalty for the 17th green mistake, until, it was applied on Sunday after the TV vigilantes protested. How then, can she be accused of signing for an incorrect score? She signed for a score that she and the officials believed to be correct at the time of handing in her card. And in fact, it was correct until the officials changed it a day later.

A few weeks ago, the golfing governing peeps were cock-a-hoop about their new ideas to entice people to the game. Well, this, dear dinosaur governing body people is exactly how you turn people off of the game.

Yes, Ms. Thompson made a mistake, but you, the officials, should eat the extra two-shot penalty because you didn’t point it out to her or even recognize the infringement. The fault was not Ms. Thompson’s. If the officials couldn’t apply the penalty before the round was finished, or at the very least before the next round teed off, then you should forfeit any penalty you deemed fit to apply.

In football parlance, it would be like a football club who, on Saturday had won a game 3-2 then being told by the Premier league on Sunday, “on reviewing the evidence, your second goal was offside, so we are changing the score retrospectively to 2-2. Therefore, two points are being deducted from your league total.”

What a total crock!

Once the final whistle is blown the game is over. So should the round be once the card is signed, unless of course, it can be proved that real cheating had occurred … I stress real cheating, not an innocent rule infringement.

I’m not even against an infringement being pointed out to the player in question after the round had finished, allowing them the chance to take a penalty if they think it is appropriate. I believe 99.99% of the pros would take the penalty if they innocently broke the rules because 99.99% of the pros, just like Lexis Thompson, are decent athletes. Even if they weren’t, the stinking cloud of doubt that would hang over them for the rest of their careers, for not taking the penalty, would be too much to bear.

Coming back to Tiger’s condemnation of the viewers pointing out an infringement to the officials, I wonder what he would have the official’s do? Not open their email for the duration of the tournament? Because surely once an official is made aware of an infringement, isn’t it, their duty to apply the appropriate penalty. And even if the officials were able to avoid being emailed the information, I doubt if they could miss the story in the newspapers and on various news media outlets.

So, I think suggesting that viewers at home cannot have a bearing on infringements is a little naïve. What would happen if a viewer who had a sizeable wager on Jordan Spieth to win a tournament witnessed his money go down the drain because another golfer with the help of an infringement took first prize? I’m sure in this litigious society, a lawsuit might be winging its way to the USPGA, especially if their officials choose to ignore the lounge referees observations.

And let’s be honest, even though I am naive enough to believe that most pros are upstanding moral athletes, that doesn’t mean some wouldn’t try to use the rules, legally, I stress, in their favour, but out and out cheating – Nah! But it can’t hurt to have 9million pair of eyes keeping them on the straight and narrow, can it?

Way back when, I was trying to qualify for my PGA school at the Belfry, but due to a heavy field and bad weather and being the last 3-ball on the course, we were required to play the last two holes in almost pitch darkness as the night folded in around us. The PGA’s head honcho at the time, was a man called Colin Snape, who with two colleagues from his office, decided to fore caddie for our match, ensuring we made it around and negating the need to come back for an expensive extra day.

For the youngsters out there, a forecaddie was a person designated to stand a few hundred yards ahead of the match and basically spot the ball for a player, much the same as the spotters do for today’s tour. But back then it was illegal to employ a forecaddie unless previously agreed by the tournament committee.

Now, I’m not one to hold Mr. Snape up as a paragon of virtue, he certainly wasn’t, but he took it upon himself to override the rule. Using common sense, he realized that any advantage gained by us having forecaddies against the rest of the field was offset by the fact that we were playing the last two holes in almost complete darkness, unlike the rest of the field.

Yes, rules is rules — and of course, we need them, but sometimes common sense is also required.

I’m pleased to say, having knocked my drive into the water up the 18th, I took a penalty drop, hit an 8iron to about 6 feet… and holed the par putt, thus getting my qualifying score to go to PGA school.

Common sense prevailed over the rules. Now there are two words you’ll rarely see in a sentence together – sense and rules.

Had common sense applied during the first women’s major of the year Ms. Thompson may have had another title to her name.

Of course, we could always go back to the good old days and stop players lifting their golf balls from the putting surface completely. Or why not go the whole hog and reintroduce the Stymie. Again, for those of you of tender years, let me explain the Stymie… A player was allowed to putt his ball onto the line between his opponent’s ball and the hole, creating a barrier… and making his opponent either go around his ball or sometimes over it.

The Stymied player would often stamp his ball into the green, nestling into a small indent (like a pitch mark) then when he hit the ball, it would leap out of the indent and fly over the ball that stopped its passage to the hole – try it, it works…

Now, bring that back and people would flock to watch the game.

And so to the Masters… I urge you all, those who can afford Sky and are avidly watching, don your deerstalker, get out your magnifying glass and if you have a doctor friend by the name of Watson invite him over … and the moment you see any infringement… you know what to do!!!

 

 

 

New rules for the old game

 

So, after fours years of searching and investigating the R&A and the USGA have come up with a raft of solutions for speeding up the game and making it more enticing for people to play and take up.

Personally, other than allowing people to putt with the flag in the hole I really don’t see how any of these changes are going to help speed up the game or make it more attractive to the uninitiated.

Three minutes to find a lost ball, doesn’t work for me, but then what do I know? Anybody who has lost a ball (and who hasn’t?) will tell you that five minutes is barely enough to look for it. The problem of cutting the search time to three minutes is this — a five minutes ball search can allow you to call the next game through while you continue to look for the errant sphere. With only three minutes, no one is going to call up the next four-ball. So, all this will achieve is to bunch up the field.

I won’t even get started on all of the other changes because I truly believe they will just add confusion to the game. I guess grounding the club might make some difference, but to me, it takes away from the point of having a hazard. It’s changing the rules to appease those who are not willing to learn the rules. What next? Shall we make the hole bigger to accommodate those who take an age lining up a tap-in?

Repairing marks in the green will just lead to abuse of the rule and leaving decisions up to people’s own judgment as to whether they broke the rules or not, can only be a bad idea. Wonderful in theory, but in practice — look out for more course punch-ups and clubhouse altercations.

Ready to play is dumb… firstly it’s dangerous, being in front of someone playing a shot could be dangerous. Also, it takes away from the nuanced pressure that is put on by the furthest away playing first. A player that’s winning that drives well and is left with a short wedge can play his second shot quickly and easily if allowed to. But if his playing partner has knocked his shot close, that puts more pressure on the easy wedge. Ask yourself why do people often putt out first? There is less pressure.

Having a maximum number of shots capped for each hole doesn’t work. Learning to play the game is about improving and capping a shot count will not help with that. As an example, a two-ball playing the last, a par 4. Player A is winning by 4 shots but takes 10 hits on the last. Player B shots a bogey and so wins the match by one shot. Yet, had player A’s score been capped at 9… the match would be drawn. How is that fair?

And while we’re on the point of changing the game for the better – it does not need pumping music or unnecessary cheering and whooping while the golfers are swinging, or shot clocks! Take a look at the Snookers Shoot Out. What an unholy mess that is. Has it done anything to grow the game? I doubt it. It is just another opportunity for the TV companies to exploit the game under the guise of being different.

So, here are my seven very simple ways of speeding up the game and enticing more people to play – I came up with the in five minutes.

1) Put the majors back on terrestrial television. It’s not rocket science, is it? The more people who see the game and enjoy it, the more people might be tempted to play – especially the kids. Take a look at the park’s tennis courts after Wimbledon has been on the BBC — Chockablock!

When I was a young assistant, I can bear witness that the Monday after any Open, more people turned up to play the course.

Offering the majors up to the highest bidders may swell the coffers of the game’s governing bodies, but it does little to grow the game. The majors on cable TV, are only seen by the few who can afford it, this must limit the exposure. Does anyone have any idea how many non-golfers watch the Masters just for the beauty of the course and gentleness of the BBC commentary? By natural osmosis, this process will bring more people to the sport. I am sure the huge fee Sky pay for the privilege of showing the sport, facilitates amazing thing within the hallowed halls of the governing bodies. But I doubt if that money really ever filters down to the games grass roots.

2) Stop building golf courses that are 7400 yards long and that have ninety bunkers. This is pandering the image of Tiger and Rory playing your course week in, week out. It’s not going to happen. The game doesn’t need more courses like this. They are far too tough for beginners to play, even if they could get on them and too tough and expensive for the average player.

3) Build golf course that are 5000 yards long. This is where the new players should learn to play and maybe those who are more comfortable at this length could also play. No doglegs, no trees, and no bunkers. Just straight up and down — tee to green. For any novice, this is challenge enough. A par is a par whatever the length of the hole, as proved at this year’s Honda Classic, only 65 players had an under par average on the par threes.

I learned to play on a 5700-yard, par 68 course, and getting under par on that course was just as hard and any other course I’ve ever played.

This isn’t a new idea. Henry Cotton explained the theory to me some twenty years ago. And it’s an idea I believe he tried to pioneer in South Africa. Glamorous no, but sensible yes!

The problem is, those in control of the game believe it is a glamorous sport. Go tell that to the pro at the local nine-hole course when he’s opening his shop at 7 am, in the middle of winter, with four inches of snow on the course and temporary greens in play.

4) Build ten-hole golf courses, six-hole golf courses or more nine-hole golf courses. Players would be around in less than two hours and wouldn’t feel cheated that they had missed out on the last of holes they didn’t get to play of the full-size course. And they wouldn’t feel that they’re being away from their family and loved ones for too long.

5) Accept that we live in a different time. The ‘R&A’s Virtual Open’ was a step in the right direction but it could have gone so much further. Getting kids onto a golf course was never easy; nowadays, getting them out of their bedrooms and away from the computer screens is near impossible. So, the R&A and USGA need to buddy up with the virtual game makers and not to just to sell them the rights to their golden egg. They need to challenge the Pro tour, who must accept their responsibility to keep the game growing! They cannot just cherry pick the top players without a commitment to nurturing the next generation of golfers. And those who want to licenses must find ways of enticing the kids out of their bedrooms. For example, invite them to come and try the game for real, by putting on traveling roadshows displaying the newest virtual games at golf courses. Let the kids play with the latest technology, but only after they’ve tried their hand at the good old fashion, swinging a real club at a real ball. I repeat — it’s not rocket science.

6) Accept that we live in a different time II. Get rid of the antiquated dress codes. Denim is here to stay – get over it. Some shirts don’t have collars, so what? Smart casual is acceptable at just about every function and so it should be on the golf course.

7) And lastly, to grow the game we have to be truthful. We are not! Private clubs and their members are often over protective of their courses and their tee times. They must open their hearts, their arms and their courses to new members — all races, all creeds, all religions, kids and women alike. We live in a world where members talk a good table about wanting to game to grow, but not on their own course, especially if it affects their own tee times.

The competition out there today from other sports, from time restrictions, and the virtual world, is too great and unless golf gets its house in order, the game will shrink and possibly be lost forever. Do not ignore the desire by many to tear up courses and used the green sites for housing. There is a huge secret in the game today that many refuse to own up to. While the well invested, high profile clubs with hotels and hospitality are doing well, a whole bunch of other smaller clubs with receding memberships are hurting and hanging together by the shoelaces of their spikes.

The governing bodies have to realize that the European Tour and the USPGA tour are not golf – they are businesses, businesses that look after their own interests and participants. The best the professional game can ever be to the amateur sport is an advert for the game. Just as the Premier League is an advert for those who play on Hackney Marshes. Yes, the sport is the same, but the game is different and one should not emulate the other. Otherwise, we will see the local Pub teams striving for the unaffordable Goal-line technology! I think we need to be clear, are we trying to speed up the pro game or the Sunday morning four-ball?

The R&A and USGA are fine upstanding people, a little dated maybe, a little Jurassic certainly, but they care passionately about the game. The unfortunate thing is that they are the custodians of golfing bastions like the Home of Golf, The Open championship, and the USGA championship. These sway them into the riches and fame of the Pro tour. Personally, I wish they would just give the Opens championships to the Pro to organize, enabling them to concentrate all their energy on the excellent job they do organization the amateur game and putting more effort into grass root development and using the professional circus just as the ultimate lure to bring people to the game.