Thought for the Day
If you do what you always did, you will get what you always got
By and large we are blessed with the quality of pro golfers we have – both in their manner and intelligence. But every now and then, possibly in an unguarded moment, they say or do something so dumb that you have to question whether they engaged brain at all before acting, or saying something daft.
For example, when the new rules were introduced at the beginning of 2019, Rory McIlroy said that a short golfer would now have an advantage over a tall golfer when dropping from knee height. He seemed not to understand that the relative difference would be exactly the same. Imagine shorty and lofty dropping from shoulder height, where the difference between the height of their shoulders was two feet. Now imagine them dropping from knee height – the difference is still two feet (unless shorty has deformed legs, or lofty a freakishly elongated torso).
Sandy Lyle, when first asked what he thought of Tiger Woods is reported to have said: ‘I don’t know; I’ve never played there.’ This has to be taken with a pinch of salt, however and might be a joke at Sandy’s expense, as his reputation is of an amiable, easy-going man who doesn’t think too deeply. It has also been reported that when flying over the Firth of Forth before landing at Edinburgh Airport Sandy asked: ‘What’s that water down there?’
His companion said: ‘That’s the Forth,’ and Sandy replied: ‘It’s got a hell of a big water hazard.’
Or how about Dustin Johnson, strolling into a bunker at the 2010 US PGA Championship and grounding his club, thinking he was in an area of waste ground, despite all competitors being briefed on the difference. It cost him a chance of victory, or at least a playoff. A playoff in which, by the way, Bubba Watson knocked his ball into a water hazard guarding the 18th, which was well within range, to hand Martin Kaymer victory.
There are historical precedents. At the US Open in 1940 rain was forecast for the final round so six golfers decided to tee off 30 minutes early. One of them, Ed ‘Porky’ Oliver tied with Gene Sarazen and Lawson Little but was denied a place in the playoff after being disqualified for his illegal early start.
It gets worse. In the 1983 Canadian Open Andy Bean, once described by Dan Jenkins as having about as much sense as a box of rocks, reversed his putter and knocked a gimme into the hole with the grip end. Because the rules state that the ball has to be struck at with the head of the club he was penalised two strokes. At the end of the fourth round he missed out on a playoff by – two strokes. At least he had insight, saying: ‘Yes, I am dumb. What can I say, a dumb mistake is a dumb mistake.’
Hale Irwin did even worse, by missing a one-inch putt in the 1983 Open Championship. In the final round his 20-footer on the 14th hole came to rest alongside the cup but Hale was too casual as he leaned in and wafted his clubhead above the ball, eventually losing to Tom Watson by a stroke. He later said: ‘I think the putter hit the ground and sort of bounced over the ball. I really don’t know what happened. I’m guessing I had a mental lapse, but it’s just a guess.’ He proved yet again that a nonchalant putt counts exactly the same as a chalant one.
These are not meltdowns, or missing short putts because nerves are jangled, or behaving like Jean Van de Velde rolling up his trousers to wade into a burn at Carnoustie, but simple, stupid errors that could so easily have been avoided.
It’s not just competitors who demonstrate an inability to think, Ryder Cup captains do it, too. In 2004 Hal Sutton was in charge of the Americans and started the week badly when, in the opening ceremony, thanked his wife for their three children – they have four. He then paired Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson on the first morning, ignoring all the evidence that they got on as well as a lion and an antelope. When they got dusted, he put them out again in the afternoon, with the same result.
When it comes to saying dumb things, however, Ian Poulter has few peers, although he does seem to have toned down his online rhetoric recently. But it was a 2008 Golf World interview when he said: ‘The trouble is I don’t rate anyone else. Don’t get me wrong, I really respect every professional golfer, but I know I haven’t played to my full potential and when that happens, it will be just me and Tiger.’ So how has that worked out, Ian? There’s confidence, then there’s arrogance but after that, only stupidity.
Possibly the dumbest thing that many of them do is not checking the leaderboard when they’re in contention. Jasper Parnevik thought he needed a birdie on the 72nd hole to win the 1994 Open and played aggressively to make bogey, when a par would have done. Mark Calcavecchia pointed out why this is a mistake he would not make by saying: ‘I like to know whether I don’t need to do anything stupid, or whether I need to try to do something stupid.’
A particularly memorable act of numptiness, however, was demonstrated by Bobby Cruickshank. After 10 holes of the last round of the 1934 US Open he was in the lead. At the 11th his approach to the green headed for a pond but struck a rock and bounced on to the green. Bobby was so delighted he shouted: ‘Thank you, Lord!’ and hurled his club into the sky. The Good Lord threw it back, straight onto Bobby’s bonce. The subsequent wound required several stitches and meant he played the final seven holes in five over par to finish third.
Pride of place above all goes to John de Forest a former British Amateur champion, at the Masters. Playing the par five 13th he knocked his approach shot into the creek guarding the front of the green. He sat down on the bank and carefully removed the shoe and sock from his foot and rolled up his trouser leg, before stepping into the creek – with the foot that still had the shoe attached. He had little choice but to brazen it out, as if that had been his intention all along.
Quote of the Week
I see no reason, truly, why the average golfer, if he goes about it intelligently, shouldn’t play in the 70s.