40 years of hearing that sweet `ping'


Professional golfers, according to a leading coach, are convinced there is a putter somewhere which will miraculously guide the ball into the centre of the hole, with unerring accuracy. As a consequence, the average tournament player has at least 20 putters in his possession, with ample space for the next wand that comes on the market.

These thoughts are prompted by this, the 40th anniversary of Ping. It celebrates the time in 1959 when Karsten Solheim, a mechanical engineer for General Electric in the US, developed a design for his 1-A putter by placing two ice-lollipop sticks on each side of two sugar cubes, with a shaft in the middle.

When the prototype was completed, it was found to make a high-pitched ringing sound upon contact with a golf-ball. And so the brand name Ping was born. But the company didn't really take off until January 1966, when Solheim was seeking an answer to the blade putters which Arnold Palmer had popularised by winning six major championships in five years.

His solution became the Anser. It was a cavity-back design for heel-toe balance and an offset hosel. But there was a problem: the name "Answer" was one letter too long. The following morning, Solheim's wife suggested that he take out the W. Which he did - and the word fitted perfectly.

At its headquarters in Phoenix, Arizona, the company now has a vault with more than 1,800 gold-plated replicas of putters, each celebrating a victory on the world's major professional tours. They also send a replica to the triumphant player.

Seve Ballesteros, who has used the Scottsdale Anser for most of his international victories, holds the record, with 45 gilded putters. And Ping gave him another one for his role as captain of Europe's winning Ryder Cup team in 1997. Indeed Ernie Els is using an old Anser in this weekend's Volvo PGA Championship.

Ping set a standard in heel-toe weighting, which was later copied extensively when the original patent ran out. So, what is the common denominator in all good putters? "The common denominator is that the players using them hole putts," said leading coach Pete Cowen. "And when they stop holing putts with them, they'll turn to another model. It's as simple as that."

He went on: "As a coach, I advise players that the shaft and lie must be suited to their build. Otherwise, there's no magic, but you will never convince a professional of that. As far as he's concerned, it's the arrow, not the Indian."

All of which made Solheim's task considerably easier.

"Such largesse could be called a sort of Marshall Plan in reverse." John Hopkins in the London Times on the appearance fees paid to Americans Tiger Woods and Mark O'Meara in Germany last weekend.

Tiger Woods admitted to seeing little of Heidelberg or the surrounding countryside during the TPC of Europe last weekend. Indeed he opted out of a scheduled, morale-boosting visit to a nearby American army base. All of which would explain why a certain, highly desirable Porsche 911 was never moved from the parking lot at St LeonRot throughout the tournament.

It seems that part of the deal which Woods negotiated with the sponsors, stipulated that the Porsche would be placed at his disposal. They instantly agreed. In fact, as a German worker at the tournament commented: "They did everything to make him happy."

As it happened, Woods's transport requirements were met by a Lancia courtesy car, driven by a woman who was apparently very nervous about her responsibility. And he was accompanied at all times by four bodyguards, two of whom were in a following car.

After his sparkling victory last Monday, the Californian was whisked to an airport about 40 miles away at Baden Baden. There, a Boeing airliner, property of the LA Lakers basketball team, was waiting to take him, Mark O'Meara and Nick Price back to the US.

It is a quarter of a century since Nancy Lopez played in the amateur championship of her home state of New Mexico. But she still remembers a particular, quirky par five which "really just drove me nuts". Now, she wants to inflict similar pain on the next generation.

After entering into the equipment business last year as head of Nancy LopezGolf, America's favourite woman professional intends to try her hand at golf-course design. She has already sent out feelers on possible projects and is currently awaiting replies.

"I'm going to try and see how I like it," she said this week. "I think women would be really good at designing golf courses."

Lopez, who is currently fighting arthritis in both knees, went on to suggest that her signature hole would be a double dogleg par five, just like the one which tormented her in New Mexico all those years ago. What was that about hell hath no fury . . .

The wonder is that more of his colleagues aren't caught. I refer to events at The Colonial last weekend, when US Tour player Paul Stankowski drove a coach and four through an endorsement contract by having the wrong clubs in his bag.

After a miserable first round of 80, Stankowski was doing considerably better on the second day when he stood level par on the 10th tee. That was when he pulled a Ping two-iron out of his Callaway bag. In fact, all of his irons were Pings, even though he had a 10-club contract with Callaway.

We are told that Ely - as in the boss of the sponsoring company - was not amused. And he faxed Stankowski on Monday morning to that effect. Later, however, everything was patched up. As the player explained: "I was so frustrated at the way I was playing that I decided to give my old clubs a try."

As an interesting postscript, only last month, Callaway threatened to file a federal trade complaint, alleging that manufacturing rivals Adams and Orlimar were permitting two players to carry their bags, but none of their clubs. At least Stankowski was carrying Callaway woods.

Apart from being the long-time manager of Sam Snead, Fred Corcoran was a fine observer of human nature. And judging by a piece from his book Unplayable Lies (Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1965), he was utterly fascinated by Ben Hogan, on and off the golf course.

He wrote: "Hogan is a strange one. If he were a judge, I believe he would give you the benefit of the doubt on your first offence, but he'd never let you off the hook twice. He would condemn you to death without batting an eyelash.

"But we had a few laughs together. I remember flying with Ben and Jimmy Demaret from Houston to Dallas in a terrible storm. The plane was tossed about like a basketball. Ben never changed expression and stepped off the plane as if he'd just come down in an elevator from the fifth floor in Macy's. Demaret staggered off the plane and croaked: `Lindberg got a ticker-tape parade for less than this.'

"This brought a bleak smile from Hogan. `Excuse me a minute,' I said. `I'm just going to dig my rosary beads out from under my fingernails . . .' The wintry smile broke into a full-throated laugh. Hogan's usually icy shell shattered. Later, he said the mental image of me actually digging my rosary beads out from under my fingernails was too much.

"I can't remember him ever finding humour in anything that happened on the golf course. Golf was his business - a tough business, full of disappointments."

This day in golf history . . . On May 29th, 1903, Bob Hope was born. Best known these days for lending his name to the Bob Hope Classic, which David Duval won with a final round of 59 last January, Hope abandoned the game in disgust after his first round at Highland Park in 1927.

He later became a great devotee of the game and after getting his handicap down to four in 1951, he played in the British Amateur at Porthcawl where he lost in the first round. By his own reckoning, he has played almost 2,000 courses worldwide.

Through his Classic, which he founded in 1960, Hope has raised millions of dollars for charity. The most notable beneficiary is the Eisenhower Medical Centre, located in Palm Springs on 80 acres of prime real estate which he donated.

Teaser: A player's ball is lying against a root. He makes a stroke and the ball pops up into the air. In disgust, he swings at it on the way down, but misses. Was the swing in disgust a stroke?

Answer: No. Such an instinctive swing in anger is not a stroke. Nor should the player be considered to have taken action to influence the movement of the ball in breach of Rule 1-2. However, if the player had struck the ball accidentally while it was in motion, he would have incurred a penalty of loss of hole in matchplay or two strokes in strokeplay (Rules 19-2a and -2b).