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Tuesday, 10 November 2015

How the Game Should be Played

I have been so happy to see the emergence of this new crop of young stars on the PGA tour.  As impressive as their games are, one thing that is quite remarkable is their behaviour on the golf course.  In an age where common courtesy is not necessarily quite so common, these young guns are setting a fine example of just how the game should be played.

Leading the pack in this respect, I think, are Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler.  They are exciting to watch, have their own unique styles and swings, and they comport themselves wonderfully on the golf course and in their dealings with the fans.  I've enjoyed watching Spieth, Fowler, Day, and McIlroy play together.  Often, even in the heat of battle, they look like guys out playing a regular Sunday round.  They openly chat to one another.  They smile, and acknowledge great shots played.  They actually seem to be having a good time.

This, of course, stands in stark contrast to the behaviour of some other players who seem to embrace the win-at-all-cost mentality; most infamously of late, being Suzann Pettersen's display of poor sportsmanship at the Solheim Cup.

When one thinks about Jack Nicklaus, we may remember his power, his ability to hit those majestic, high-fading iron shots, and his incredible putting that often made us think he really could will the ball into the hole.  But, as I see over and over again as I read people's comments about Jack, the one thing about him that is always mentioned is what an absolute gentleman he is and was.  He personified good sportsmanship on the course.

Jack was a huge admirer of Bobby Jones; and I daresay he paid close attention to the example Jones set as a gentleman.  I was just reading what Bobby Jones had to say about etiquette, and just how he believed golfers should behave on the golf course.  In his book, Golf is my Game, Bobby wrote the following, under the heading RESPECT THE RULES AND ETIQUETTE OF THE GAME, Bobby summed up, surely as well as any person could, the way golf should be played.  He wrote:

"It is of the very essence of golf that it should be played in a completely sociable atmosphere conducive to the utmost courtesy and consideration of one player for the others, and upon the very highest level in matters of sportsmanship, observance of the rules, and fair play.  There is no place at all for gamesmanship in golf...

Since we want to enjoy our golf, one of the most important necessities for this enjoyment is that we make ourselves agreeable companions on the links.  We want other people to enjoy playing with us as much as we enjoy playing with them.  There is nothing at all inconsistent in being competitive and at the same time companionable.

So the one of the most important things for the beginner to acquire as soon as possible is an adequate understanding of the rules and etiquette of the game.  The rules of golf, considered in their entirety, provide material for almost a lifetime of study...

On the other hand, there are two basic conceptions upon which the game of golf has been developed which most effectively point the way to the proper solution of any question that may arise.  The first, with respect to the rules, is that the player must start and finish each hole with the same ball, playing each stroke as it lies, or accept some penalty for failing to do so. (This, of course, is a bit of an over-simplification, as we know there are occasions when a ball may be moved, or even changed without penalty.  But, the notion of playing the ball as it lies is integral to the game.). The second, with respect to etiquette, is that the player must in no way interfere with the play of his opponent or anyone else in the game.  This right of the player to play his own game unmolested by other players or agencies outside his own game is fundamental to golf.  So it is quite enough in the beginning, I think, if the player should understand that he is to play every shot with the ball as it lies, or accept a penalty, and he must so conduct himself as to interfere with his opponent or partner in no way, shape, of form...

On the side of etiquette, I think the golfer could well be guided by the rules of simple courtesy.  He knows well enough not to take practice swings while his companions are trying to play shots, or to talk or make distracting noises while the same process is going on.  Golf requires considerable concentration, which is not possible in this sort of atmosphere.

Always play to win.  You don't have to be a doormat to be a good sport.  You owe it to your opponent to let him know that he only wins from you when he overcomes the best you can do.

It is by no means necessary to play well to be an entirely acceptable golfing companion, but you must try.  You must be able to keep the ball in play.  You must not dilly-dally around.  You must be ready to play your shot when your turn comes, and you must be aware of and respectful of the rights of others in your game.

If you can fill this bill, you need have no hesitancy about playing in any company.  Indeed, better players will be delighted to help and encourage you in the game.  They like golf, and they will want you to like it, too.  The better your partner, the more tolerant he is likely to be."

I'm only sorry I never got to see Bobby Jones play.