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It really is time to clamp down

Darts and golf. Three words in to the article, and the hackles are rising on some of you already. The idea that this great game could be mentioned in the same breath as a pastime played in the Dog and Ferret over a pint and a packet of pork scratchings will be anathema to many.

But there is, horror of horrors, a considerable constituency of opinion out there who struggle to see either in the context of sport. Several of my col- leagues within the BBC spend many a happy evening in the pub debating whether the talents of Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor or Rory McIlroy can ever be compared with a Jessica Ennis or Bradley Wiggins, whose physi- cality and athleticism makes them ‘true’ sports stars.

The gainsayers tend to be those who have never ventured beyond the pitch-and-putt on the seafront at Littlehampton, but they will repeatedly point to the excess weight carried by many a young tyro on the US tour and spout words such as ‘body-mass index’ as proof that golf has still to fully embrace the requirements of the modern-day athlete.

The golfers among us will counter by detailing the physical requirements in belting the ball off the tee, the body torque, the mental toughness, and anything else we can think of which ensures that after five hours and 18 holes, you need a pint and a packet of pork scratchings because actually it’s quite tiring. On those occasions when you manage to cram in 36 holes in a day, the sense of relief as you approach the final tee and spy that final pin in the distance is indeed like the proverbial pub in the desert, with or without the scratchings. And as someone who once (foolishly) agreed to take part in a longest-day challenge on a balmy June morning, afternoon and evening, and who was begging for mercy on the 89th as a weary bunker shot dribbled back into the sand, I will per- sonally vouch for how exhausting the game can be. But then they hit you with their ace. A blow to the solar plexus from which there can be little chance of recovering.

How can golf be taken seriously as a sport, they say, when it allows belly putters to be used by some of the world’s finest exponents? They are little more than a sport- ing zimmer frame or crutch for those who can’t cope with the demands of a ‘proper’ putter. It’s like a darts’ player being allowed to clamp his elbow in a vice to ensure there is no wavering in his throwing arm. The belly putter is a grandad accoutrement that per se looks ludicrous and makes those using it look even more ridiculous.

And what about fairness? Shouldn’t everybody have to use the same definition of club? Why don’t some darts players have a dart that is two feet long so it’s a lot easier to reach the board. Or a javelin? Why don’t some tennis players double the size of their rackets? As the tally of pints and pork scratchings mounts, the argument gets more and more preposterous, but the point is well made.

Over to the golfing fraternity, staring at each other hoping someone can mount a reasoned defence of the most discussed club in the bag.

Stammering and stuttering, we try to explain that when a ball is lying 20 feet from the pin, with a left- to-right borrow and it’s downhill with a bunker threatening at the back, quite frankly it’s hard enough as it is, so the dimensions of the club anyone is using is neither here nor there.

But while we always win the war when it comes to the ‘is golf a sport’ debate, you know when you’re fighting a los- ing battle. Prepare to throw in the towel. 9. 10. Out! For the club player and high handicapper who needs every bit of help they can get, then by all means allow clubs of varying dimensions to ensure their continued involvement in the sport. But not in the profes- sional ranks. Not for those players for whom golf is their living. At the elite end of the game, the belly putter, ‘anchoring’, is indeed absurd. And unfair. And the sooner the sport’s authorities ban it from the game, the better. Anyone fancy another pint or maybe some crisps? Or how about a game of darts?

May 2013

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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