When walking the ‘three bridges’ beside the ‘lordly’ River Shannon in Limerick last week, I met my buddies, Mutt and Jeff, enjoying lattés in the café opposite the statue of Terry Wogan. I joined them because I always learn something from these two philosophers.
Ivan: Long time no see, boys! Have you been playing much golf?
Mutt: Golf is a habit that is easy to give up. I have never played less.
Jeff: None of that talk! Give up golf completely and you will be on your way to the graveyard.
Mutt: I did play 9-holes last week without hitting two decent shots in succession but still managed six pars.
Jeff: Next time you’ll hit six GIRS and shoot the same score. There is no explaining golf. You’ll both be interested in the book I have been reading: Stephen Proctor’s The Long Golden Afternoon – Golf’s Age of Glory (1864-1914). It captured the full sense of an era I barely knew. Now I have a proper appreciation of The Great Triumvirate (Vardon, Taylor and Braid), Horace Hutchinson, John Ball, Harold Hilton, John Laidlay, the tragic Freddie Tait, plus many others of whom I had never heard: Dougie Rolland (the John Daly of the 1880s, apparently) and John Graham (‘worthy’ of winning many championships but a nervous disposition hampered him).
Ivan: Harry Vardon gets overlooked today. He won 52-times between 1894 and 1914 (34% of the tournaments he entered). Nowhere near as many tournaments in those days. He earned money playing in exhibitions and challenge matches more than tournaments. Harry finished first or second in more than half the tournaments he played over a 20-year period. Imagine doing that today?
Jeff: I love reading about those old days. Golf was a different game considering the equipment used and the condition of the courses. A set of clubs would last a lifetime and were made of wood. One didn’t have to listen to marketing clap trap about ‘weaklings’ hitting 9-irons 200-yards because they bought a new Spalding. Balls were made (by the players) to last longer too because they were relatively expensive. Sending balls away for re-moulding and re-painting when they became frayed was routine. The Gutty usurped the feathery in the 1840s, not because it performed any better but because it was a lot cheaper and easier to mass produce. The American wound rubber-cored ball replaced the Gutty in 1901. When Sandy Herd was given a rubber ball on the eve of the Open Championship in 1902, he noticed immediately a huge difference in the distance he could hit it – so, he played with it for the entire 72-holes and won! His was the only rubber ball in the competition. The following year everybody in the field was playing with rubber balls. Golf has always been like that. Good news travels fast.
Mutt: While golfers have always embraced new innovations that helped them to play better, it has gone too far in the 2000s. Raw, crooked, distance should not be more important than touch and feel. Some good news: I hear on the grapevine that some manufacturers have thrown in the towel and are prepared to accept a rollback in technology. No details have been leaked from official sources yet but we may hear ‘some news’ around Masters time? Strangely, the catalyst for the softening in attitude might be that the main (men’s) tours see their sponsors growing interest in ladies golf. The ladies are gaining more followers because they play courses in a more realistic and attractive manner. Par fours are proper par 4s, not 3.5s. Par 5s are proper par 5s. The irony may be that females could be more adversely affected by any technology rollbacks than males.
Jeff: Are you 100% that would be the case? Moving their tees forward would solve it. Either way, it is good to see the ladies playing for bigger purses. Ladies have shorter careers (in general) and make bigger sacrifices to be a professional sportsperson (if that is considered sexist, I apologise in advance. I’m attempting to be supportive). I’m convinced that a technology rollback would assist the better ball strikers and that is why I have always been in favour of it. If there had been a rollback in 2000 when the PRO-V1 made its debut, I reckon Tiger would have won 20-odd majors and Rory would be close to ten by now?
Ivan: It WOULD BE great if it happens but, it is still a big if. I’d love to see more ‘shot-making’ and the best players forced to innovate and adjust to whatever circumstances are thrown at them by the vagaries of the game. Coping with the inconsistencies of uneven terrain is the essence of golf. Good shots ending up in bad places and bad shots ending in good places with the emphasis on creative recovery play instead of hitting-distance pushed to the ultimate degree to make it disproportionately easy for the sloggers. The following statistic says it all, really. The aggregate scores by the entire field on every hole played on the PGA tour relative to par last year were: (all golfers far more skilful than any of us) – over par on the par 4s, over par on the par 3s but (well) under par on the 5s. Pros depend heavily on the par-5s to shoot under par. Now, here’s an idea – do away with par 5s!
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