Opportunities in China should help golf come to grips with reality
It must be golfer heaven right now. The Masters is coming up. Tiger’s back on the prowl, and Rory’s slowly getting used to his expensive new clubs. But best of all, there are rules and regulations to argue about. And it doesn’t get better for pullovers everywhere than fulminating over the rulebook.
In case you have a life, and aren’t transfixed by philosophical deliberations as to how best to hold your putter, golf is currently gripped by a controversy over what, and what isn’t, an acceptable way to putt; and wringing every bead of sweaty angst out of it too.
The Royal & Ancient and the US Golf Association want to ban broom-handle putters, the long ones you put your chin on, and belly putters, which you basically push into your gut. Apparently these provide “anchors” which many, Woods and McIlroy included, believe to be against the spirit of the game; as in it don’t mean a thing if ain’t got that swing.
The problem is statistics suggest using a broom or a belly putter doesn’t provide any kind of edge, something pointed out by the American PGA which is against any ban starting in 2016. So there’s the potential for a terribly civilised schism among the global membership.
Since there is no statistical back-up for the abolitionists argument that long putters provide an unfair advantage, one can only assume their gripe is based on the increased proliferation of these things in the last few years, and most importantly of all, their success.
Three of the last five Majors have been won by players using belly putters, including Erne Els who scooped the British Open with one and yet purports to hate the things; a clear-cut case of having your bread plastered with jam on both sides.
So with nothing concrete to work off, the anti-crowd fundamentally appear to be reacting from an aesthetical base, which is hysterical really, considering golf and aesthetics are from far-flung parts of the universe, fated never to come within sight of each other.
Only something so far up itself as golf could get into such a state about something as mundane as equipment – and then manage to turn it into an ethical debate.
Sports, and their mechanics, move on. Wooden tennis rackets are relics. So are wooden golf-drivers. Snooker originally came up with rests because the table was too big for short-arses: now there are rest adaptors available for guys who wouldn’t look out of place in the Springbok second-row.
Skiing fundamentally consists of falling down a mountain with boards on your feet. But every Gstaad poseur knows the importance of having an especially super-swish set of skis that have been put through the same aerodynamic tests as the space-shuttle.
In racing, blinkers, visors, cheek-pieces, tongue-ties, sheep-skin nose-bands are all used to help the horse perform. Do they provide an advantage? One would hope so, since what’s the point otherwise. Is it an unfair advantage? Of course it isn’t.
Considering the advances in club and ball technology, whether or not a putter is wedged into the soft-folds of Els’s tummy is small beer, a technical peculiarity, the optics of which mightn’t appeal to purists but which is nevertheless valid.
No one could ever pretend Rafa Nadal’s double-handed back-hand is a thing of beauty. But no one suggests either that by putting two hands on the racket instead of one, he is getting an unfair advantage.
But in golf, a Major winner like Keegan Bradley is getting heat from fans and media alike for pointing out how someone who’s legally used nothing else but a long-putter all their career might be somewhat inconvenienced by someone else’s view of what’s pretty or not.
For those who know such things, there’s never been a prettier putter than Brad Faxon. Brad is the Bradman of the green, apparently. And even he, the purist, is shocked at how golf is flagellating itself over something so stupid.
“It’s an advantage. I don’t know if it’s an unfair advantage,” Brad said, before crucially adding: “But I don’t think it’s enough of an advantage for me to switch.”
Of course golf being golf, an awful lot of people are getting hot under the collar about this, asking who, in such a game of honour, would want to be seen for the next couple of years to be using something that in 2016 is likely to be outlawed.
Well, those who make millions from using these things, for one; just the sort of people in fact with the motivation and resources to take this to court and get the other side to justify how their prejudices should prejudice someone else’s potential for making a living.
But there’s potentially much bigger bucks than that at stake: the sort of money golf’s fellate-your-way-to-the-top executive soul understands only too well.
There’s a 14-year-old kid going to play the Masters this year. He’s something of an amateur prodigy, destined to become the Tiger of his generation. His name is Guan Tianlang, and he’s from China.
Yep, golf in China: all that new and disposable money just dying to show-off and hang out with other new and disposable money: a vast market aching for a local polo-shirted hero, and all the foreign devils hanging onto his lucrative coat-tails. Oh, and the youngfella plays with a belly-putter.