John Huggan: 10 Commandments for golf in 2014

Huggy’s not happy with ‘fist-bumping’ and ‘air hugging’, but he reckons a major win for Tiger would be good for the game’s profile

Huggy’s not happy with ‘fist-bumping’ and ‘air hugging’, but he reckons a major win for Tiger would be good for the game’s profile

1 15 per cent knocked off the distance balls can travel

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Hardly anyone in authority – and no one in equipment manufacture – wants to hear this, but practically everything bad in 21st-century-style golf can be traced back to the 1.68-inch sphere at the heart of the game. Here are just a few examples from a lengthy list: With shots going farther, so many courses have been (unnecessarily) lengthened – and so cost more to maintain; more expensive maintenance has to be paid for – typically by higher annual subscription rates; rounds take longer to complete and so are less fun; at the highest level, the combination of huge club heads and the “hot” ball has transformed golf from the art form it should be into a pseudo-science offering less and less aesthetic appeal; so often, the original aim of the course architect is a thing of the past as the relatively mindless shots of the top professionals carry what used to be strategically placed hazards. Any semblance of subtlety has largely been lost. As has thinking, the shaping of shots replaced by “crash bang wallop”.

2 Tiger Woods to win a major championship

For one thing, it would cheer up this increasingly grumpy individual. And, for another, it would raise the game’s wider profile at a time when such a thing has never been more important. Whether we like it or not, Woods is the straw that stirs the golfing drink. The first golfer ever to be the most famous sportsman on the planet, the 14-times major champion – we’ve been saying that for nearly six years now – has a value far beyond any debate over his off-course behaviour, relationship with the rules, or increasingly dodgy putting on Sunday afternoons.

2014 could be his year too. As Woods has already pointed out, he is “trending” the right way as far as the four major venues are concerned. He’s won at three of them – Augusta National, Hoylake and Valhalla – and been third and second in his last two visits to Pinehurst, where the US Open will be held. Come on Tiger, put us all out of our misery.

3 Legislate on slow play

It’s simple really. Whether in the monthly medal or the European Tour event, players should be given no more than four hours to complete 18 holes. If they can’t do that, they should be disqualified. No excuses. Then watch everyone get round in not more than three hours 59 minutes.

4 Move the Ryder Cup

Don’t panic. We’re not talking far. But the (at best) mediocre Centenary Course venue presently slated to host the biennial contest between Europe and the United States is no match for a composite 18 made up of holes from all three courses at Gleneagles. Most importantly, this vastly superior track would climax with a magnificent three-hole run on the King’s Course consisting of the best par-4 on the premises (the 13th), the excitingly driveable short par-4 14th and the iconic par-5 18th.

It won’t happen of course, for reasons that have everything to do with the Ryder Cup’s middle name (money) and nothing to do with golf. But it would be so much tastier than the bland fare which will be served up next September. Oh well.

5 Merging of Scottish Golf Union and Scottish Ladies Golfing Association

This has been dragging on for ages now, despite the commendable willingness of the ladies to participate in an obviously beneficial development for both organisations. But it isn’t happening, for reasons that do not reflect well on the SGU. Rightly or wrongly, the impression here is one of a bunch of past-their-sell-by-date blazers pathetically and desperately clinging to “power”. Instead of doing what is best for the game, these self-centred individuals can’t seem to see past their next free trip or piece of gear. Shame on them.

6 Play proper foursomes

Speaking of the Ryder Cup and the pressing need to get a possible 36 holes in before dark in late September, let’s tell the players to save time and play foursomes (alternate-shot in American) properly. In other words, let’s ban any “hand holding” on tees. Let’s compel the non-striker to walk forward and wait for his partner’s tee-shot to arrive. Then he can immediately hit the approach shot, the “driver” able to walk from tee to green without stopping. What a concept eh?

Just for devilment, Scots Paul Lawrie and Stephen Gallacher did just that during this year’s Seve Trophy. So perplexed was Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn that he asked Lawrie if he and his compatriot had fallen out and were not speaking. So there is much ignorance to overcome. Can be done though.

7 Tougher rules on cheating

This column has touched on this subject before and it remains the great unwritten story in golf, the culprits all too often “protected” by the laws of libel. Sad to say, there is a lot more deliberate rule-breaking going on in professional golf than anyone in officialdom cares to acknowledge.

Almost every week an “off the record” account of the latest cheating incident is doing the rounds. But it remains that way primarily because any witnesses are all but actively discouraged from coming forward by tour officials who just don’t want to know. Bad for business, you see. Anyway, it would be nice to think that more will be done in this area during 2014, especially when it comes to Rule 27 concerning where to drop after the previous shot has crossed into a hazard. According to at least one high-profile rules official, this is the most abused regulation in the professional game.

8 Women members at the R&A

It’s time, gentlemen please. While this column has no real philosophical problem with single-sex clubs per se – other than not wishing to join one – the rules-making body for golf worldwide (other than the United States and Mexico) must be held to a different standard. Simple logic and commonsense dictates those making the rules cannot be seen to discriminate in any way, shape or form. So come on chaps, if Augusta National can have lady members, so can you.

9 A ban on “air hugs” and “knuckle fondling”

Call me old-fashioned, but whatever happened to the handshake? Bring it back! Air hugging, of course, is the preserve of the ladies game, an obviously embarrassing and nonsensical practice that could only be sillier if the players were heard to utter “mwhah, mwhah” as they “cuddle” on the 18th green. Scotland’s best golfer, Catriona Matthew, is known to want a return to hand-shaking normality and others – Michelle Wie is one – would seem to be like-minded. Get it done lades.

As for the men, are these supposedly “cool” and predominantly white professionals really trying to tell us they were raised in predominantly black neighbourhoods? Can you imagine Ben Hogan fondling Sam Snead’s knuckles with his own? Give me a break. And get back to shaking hands.

10 More short grass, less long grass

One of the most frustrating aspects of the game at all levels is a preponderance of long grass close to putting surfaces. Thick rough is golf’s most boring hazard, illogically and tediously reducing players of all standards to the same “hack-out” level. This is especially true around the greens. It remains a mystery why so many courses do not allow players “room” to hit a stimulating variety of chip and pitch shots – or putts – from tight lies. Think about it. The game is way more interesting when we are asked to hit tough shots from clean lies rather than unthinking shots from tough lies.

Happy New Year to you all.