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  • Alistair Tait

Putting Skill & Artistry Back Into Golf

Updated: Dec 4, 2021

Well done to the R&A and USGA for introducing a new Model Local Rule to ban players at the highest level from making several library trips before hitting a 15-foot putt.

It should hopefully speed up play on the greens.

But we’re not holding our breath, are we?

From next year, committees running tournaments can force players to use only approved yardage books, and limit the amount of information players and caddies can write in said approved books. How that will be policed is going to be interesting to watch.

Hmmm, wonder if they should go all the way and ban yardage books completely?

Yesterday’s press release from the governing bodies states:

“The purpose behind the local rule is to ensure that players and caddies use only their eye and feel to help them read the line of play on the putting green.”

Imagine that, making green reading a skill.

Somewhere in that great 19th hole in the sky, Seve Ballesteros must have punched the air. The likes of Ben Crenshaw and Brad Faxon probably celebrated with good strong drinks.

As I’ve previously noted, watching the likes of Bryson DeChambeau check his green-reading book not once but several times for a 10-foot putt is life sapping.

That won’t now happen. However, once a snail always a snail. The slowpokes will probably end up taking more looks at that 10-foot putt from more angles. And then miss it anyway!

This move to bring feel back into the game makes me wonder what banning yardage books at the highest level would do for the game? How would the best players in the world react if they weren’t given numbers to the flag, to the front, centre and back of greens, yardages to bunkers off the tee, to reach hazards? Watching some players and caddies consult yardage books looks as if they’re tackling a remote Scottish hillside with an Ordnance Survey map in misty conditions.

Who of the current crop of elite players would excel if they had to just eye ball their way around a course? Bubba Watson has to be a good bet, given the way he shapes shots depending on his mood. Tiger Woods would probably still have his 15 majors. Bet Lee Trevino wouldn’t have been perturbed in his heyday if he’d been denied a yardage book. Same with Seve. Ditto for Laura Davies in her pomp. She’d just have got on with it.

I know, I know, it’s all just wishful thinking and I’m probably going to be labelled an old fogey. Trackmans, range finders, etc are all part of the modern game. I admit I don’t currently play a shot unless I first laser the flag. I also admit it probably doesn’t make a difference at my level whether I know it’s 138 or 142 yards to the flag. I’d probably hit the same club if I was just guessing the distance, and hit it just as badly.

There’s a part of me that feels we’ve lost a lot of feel and artistry in this game because of advanced technology. As I’ve noted before, one prominent European star once told me he didn’t need to play practice rounds even for tournaments like The Open. All he needed were the numbers and he could compete.

Wouldn’t it be unique, say, just once a year to see the top players play courses without the use of yardage books, numbers to front centre and back on sprinkler heads and 100, 150, and 200 yard discs on fairways?

Who’s your champion at, say, Augusta National or the Old Course at St Andrews if players were forced to play by just skill and artistry alone?

#JustSaying: “Genius must be born, and can never be taught.” John Dryden

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