Unless you’re a hacker with a long-handled putter, the dispute gathering steam in the upper echelons of the game on both sides of the Atlantic is probably passing you by. But it may eventually embrace us all.
The key word is bifurcation which means to divide into two branches and that is, some say, what is going to happen to this old game of ours. The pros will play one game and the rest of us will play another version.
As far as I am concerned, I already play a totally different version but they mean a different set of rules.
This prospect has been brought to a head by the threat from our governing bodies to ban the anchoring of a putter to the body when making a stroke. Of course, you could anchor a normal length putter to your body but that could be uncomfortable, painful or even harmful to the future of the species.
No, we are talking about long putters and while not actually banning them the R & A and the USGA could ban the act of anchoring which would render them unusable.
Two sections of the game not happy about this — the pros who use them and those who manufacture them. Considering that three of the last five major winners use long putters and that manufacturers are busy making enough long putters to go three times around the world, this not a lobby to be easily ignored.
In the past week, the dispute has been accelerated in its seriousness by Mark King, chief executive of TaylorMade-Adidas, who called the R & A and the USGA ‘obsolete’ and said that they would be non-entities within ten years.
He said that the various professional Tours should make their own rules and that, for the plebs, a new form of golf should emerge that would be more exciting, more fun and more accessible.
Then he claimed that nobody plays by the exact rules of golf on Friday afternoon with their buddies. If he took liberties with the rules at our club he’d be hanging from a tree by lunchtime.
He even suggested, tongue in cheek or not, that making the hole bigger would be a help.
I can’t speak for all hackers but what drives us is the utterly impossible challenge of ever getting the better of golf. To even suggest that we would welcome the game being made easier is to totally misunderstand our motivation. It is tantamount to an insult.
It is not difficult to understand King’s motivation. Last year his group made a profit of 2 billion dollars which was amazing in a dwindling market. There were 26 million golfers in the US in 2011, down from 30 million in 2005, and a net loss of around 350 clubs.
No wonder he wants to make the game more popular. I would be less inclined to doubt his altuism if I hadn’t shared an experience with countless thousands of golfers world-wide.
Several years ago I had a TaylorMade driver which I was very fond of. Unfortunately, that particular make and many others were declared illegal because their club faces had a trampoline effect deemed to be unfair.
I’m not sure King was involved with TaylorMade at that time but I don’t recall any fuss from the manufacturers. Why should they? Our clubs were scrapped, mine’s still in the garage, and we had to pay a couple of hundred pounds to replace them.
Was there any apology for selling us clubs that were capable of being declared unlawful, any compensation to help us purchase new clubs? Of course not, they were happy to make more money from us.
It is ironic that the market is now flooded with clubs capable of sending the ball even further than our illegal clubs were supposed to.
The difference is that if long putters are banned, they can’t make any more. There’s no replacement market.
One thing is certain; the R& A and the USGA, as deliberate and slow moving as they are, must preserve their authority over the commercial interests whose genuine respect for this ancient game is so suspect.
Anyway, I think I’ve spotted one flaw in the King master-plan — if you made the holes bigger, nobody would need a long-handled putter.