Mr Tickelson

Thought for the Day
Life is not about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself

Put a sock in it, Phil
Professional golfers can be extraordinarily precious. Delicate, tender flowers that have to be nurtured, nourished, cosseted and caressed in order to display their many talents.

When the Rules of Golf went through a major revision almost three years ago now, the squeals of protest were immediate, ridiculous and over-the-top. Bryson DeChambeau, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy could barely control their eagerness to criticise the new dropping procedure, when it was amended from shoulder to knee height. All of their comments were knee-jerk reactions, made within the first few days of the new procedures being introduced, without any pause for reflection, or to allow a little time to get used to the changes.

And is anyone seriously suggesting now that the amended dropping procedure is unfair, difficult to understand or in some other way has created a significant problem for the game? Of course not. Radical (and overdue) though this major revision of the rules was, it has nevertheless been absorbed and applied by tens of millions of golfers around the world without fuss. Except by the pros.

But they are at it again, this time because the R&A and USGA have suggested that the maximum permissible length of a driver should be reduced from 48 inches to 46. To be exact, the game’s governing bodies are giving professional tournament organisers the option of introducing a local rule to that effect (although both the PGA and LPGA tours have announced the change will be implemented). The rule, effective from 1 January 2022, can be implemented at any professional or elite amateur event. The response from several tour pros has been loud, outraged and indignant while, once again, allowing no time to assess what difference, if any, the change will make.

The loudest howl of outrage comes from Phil Mickelson, who wrote on Twitter: ‘Stupid is as stupid does Mrs Gump. Really though, are the amateurs trying their best to govern the professional game the stupid ones? Or the professionals for letting them?’

Three things to unravel there. First, disagreeing with someone doesn’t mean you have to call them stupid; insults on the Twittersphere rarely lead to rational debate.* Second, the ‘amateurs’ he decries are the men and women of the game’s governing bodies; people and institutions whose sole purpose is to safeguard and protect the laws of golf and the way it is played. They are not professional golfers but they are professional administrators, and to suggest otherwise is insulting, if not offensive. Third is the assumption that only those who play golf for a living have the right to legislate, effect, comment on or even have an opinion about the pro game.

It’s the same as the professional footballer, or any other elite athlete or specialist, who argues that the only people who can really have insight into their performance, are those who have been there, done that and got the T-shirt. It would be like me saying that you cannot comment on or criticise this article unless you’re a journalist. It is an attitude that says, in effect: Only me, and others in my position, have the right to have an opinion on, or try to influence what I do. If that philosophy were universal, no-one could ever express a point of view on, for example, the way in which our politicians perform.

Phil was further outraged when he said he only found out about the proposed change through media, a view immediately refuted by Rory McIlroy, the chairman of the PGA Tour’s Player Advisory Council, who said there had been months of discussion, which was communicated to fellow players.

Phil has form, of course, and as he gets older seems to be developing a policy of only opening his mouth in order to change feet. In the aftermath of the 2014 Ryder Cup he threw his captain Tom Watson under a bus, shattering the unspoken rule that criticism of the skipper stays behind closed doors. Then in 2018 he deliberately hit a moving ball at the US Open, exploiting a rules loophole and immediately took pride in his acumen before belatedly apologising a few days later for his ‘embarrassing and disappointing’ behaviour. And en route to winning his 50th PGA title, in a weather affected AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, he was both unsportsmanlike and stubborn by insisting that play could continue in near darkness, while playing partner Paul Casey couldn’t see the line of his three-foot putt. Once again Phil later apologised ‘because I get sometimes in my own little bubble that I don’t see the big picture.’

And that is exactly what is happening here because Phil, you may recall, used a 48-inch driver to achieve that magnificent win in this year’s PGA Championship.

With regard to the proposed limit on driver length, he’s not alone but, thankfully, part of a small but vocal minority. According to the Golf website, at least two of his peers have also criticised the suggested amendment, despite the fact that only three percent of professional players use clubs longer than 46 inches. Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson have said they don’t agree but thankfully, the general consensus appears to be: ‘I have enough trouble hitting a 46-inch driver so it’s something that will never effect me.’

Perhaps the final word should rest with Kevin Kisner, who said: ‘I don’t know what they’re trying to accomplish other than to keep people from hitting it far.’

Err, yes Kevin, that’s exactly what they’re trying to accomplish. Something that everyone in the game wants, except narrow-minded, blinkered and self-centred pros who can only see how it might affect them personally, rather than appreciate the wider picture.

Quote of the Week
There are two things you can learn by stopping your backswing at the top and checking the position of your hands: How many hands you have, and which one is wearing the glove
Thomas Mulligan

*And yes, I am aware of my own apparent hypocrisy but I have tried very hard, despite any evidence to the contrary, to not call Phil Mickelson ‘stupid.’

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