It’s usually not the piano, it’s the player

November 30, 2011

When you have a chance while out on the golf course, take a look at the clubs in your playing competitors’ golf bags.

This is especially helpful when you have little if any prior experience of playing with these folks.

Keen observation should provide valuable clues as to which is the strongest part of their game - or at least, what they think it is.

For example, if there is a dime-sized worn area in the middle of the club face of a players’ pitching wedge, you should not be surprised with anything that player can do from 100 yards in to a green.

If a player has a 1-iron in his bag, do not make a bet with him, no matter how many handicap strokes he may offer.

If the player’s putter has a new grip, but the putter head has marks and scrapes that readily give away its well-over-two-decades existence, stay away from any interesting propositions you might hear around a putting green.

These golfers have held onto the clubs that help them play the best part of their game.
For many other golfers, however, that search continues.

I describe the club-purchasing habits of one of my regular playing companions as being more like a short-term lease. He will try a friend’s driver for a couple rounds, and then buy one for himself. Well before the season ends, however, he will put that club on eBay and buy another new club with the net proceeds.

Lather, rinse, and repeat. The golf equipment industry loves golfers like him.
Some professional golfers are famous for sharing this same trait. Arnold Palmer, for example, is well known for his extensive collection of putters.

It seems that among all golf clubs, putters bring out the most fickleness in their owners. Perhaps that’s why a recent Ruling of the Day from the United States Golf Association used a putter in a situation regarding replacing clubs during a round.

The Rules of Golf limit players to 14 clubs in their bags during a round. However, under certain conditions, a golfer may replace a club while playing - primarily if a club becomes unfit for play because it has suffered substantial damage.

If a golfer begins a round with less than 14 clubs, she can add the missing club or clubs during the round, as long as she doesn’t unduly delay the game, and as long as it’s not a club used by someone else on the course that day.

In the new ruling, the situation involves a golfer who becomes disgusted with his putter during the round. Without holding up anyone’s play, he removes that putter and replaces it with another one from his locker, after finishing his play on a hole.

Before the golfer takes a stroke for the next hole, however, his friends remind him that he can’t replace the putter just because he’s having a bad day on the greens. Thus chastened, the golfer puts the original putter back in his bag, leaves the second one with the club pro, and plays on.

The USGA made a useful distinction being screwing up and almost screwing up in ruling that there are no penalties to be imposed in this circumstance.

As the ruling put it, “Although the player was not entitled to add or replace a club, he is not considered to be in breach of Rule 4-4a until he makes a stroke with any club while the added putter is in his possession.”

For golfers whose faith in their own putting skills is as shaken as this character’s, an alternative solution is readily available.

They can put two putters in their bag, and rely on the other 12 clubs for the rest of their playing needs elsewhere on the course.