March 09, 2008

The First 100 Days


Golf has lots of commissioners, advisory boards, executive directors and assorted other czar types calling the shots. What if, though, it had a president -- unencumbered by a pesky Congress or pushy pollsters -- who could really make things happen? In the spirit of the political season, as long as I don't have to go on "Meet The Press," without any promise of solutions for health care, home foreclosures or immigration, an agenda of things big and small for a President of Golf.

• Get the pro game moving. Slow play won't be solved by any one thing, but penalty strokes instead of hand-slap fines are a start. Disallowing caddies from standing behind players and assisting their alignment once they have taken their stance also would relieve some tedium. Jack Nicklaus did just fine aiming all by his lonesome, and so does Tiger Woods. Self-reliance occasionally is mythologized in our sport, but it is, or ought to be, one of its inherent strengths.

• Help today's players become aware of the game's past. Give every pro who earns his tour card some reading material beyond a list of what drugs he can or cannot inhale: The Story of American Golf by Herbert Warren Wind, Golf's Golden Grind by Al Barkow, Uneven Lies: The Heroic Story of African-Americans in Golf by Pete McDaniel. A little history lesson never hurt anybody.

• Strongly encourage all pro tournaments to follow the lead of the British Open -- and now the Masters -- and let kids in for free. The game has plenty of challenges to keep a pipeline of participants flowing. Remember the first time you heard a pro's shot whistle past in person?

• Fire up the chain saws at Augusta National. All the trees planted the last 10 years or so don't make it a better course or the Masters a better tournament. Simple as that.

• Shoo young golfers out of the high-tech lesson studio and away from the pyramids of perfect practice balls more often. God bless the teachers who turn golf into calculus, but generations of golfers learned how to win playing for their own cash. Winning breeds winning, even if it's for a fin.

• Stage a tournament for marquee instructors. How fun would it be to see Hank Haney, Butch Harmon, David Leadbetter and other teachers to the stars practice what they preach? The odds against that happening, though, might be greater than getting Tiger back to play in Milwaukee.

• Start a silly-season event in which pros tee it up with equipment circa 1975 -- drivers that click, balls that cut, irons with heads you could mistake for a butter knife.

• Play another competition with current clubs but a ball that is scaled back 10 percent and see what happens -- similar to what the Ohio GA tried a couple of years ago.

• Bring some common sense into course conditions. Less lushness is necessary for the environment and more interesting for the game. Ditto for zany green speeds for everyday play. Just because a machine can make putting surfaces outrageously fast doesn't mean man has to play them that way. The British Open often is a compelling event, yet the greens aren't out of control over there.

• Function should overrule style in most matters. Take tee markers. Life was simple in the days of red, white and blue pegs or spheres. Golf is hard enough without struggling to figure out which is the right set of tees. Grey and sage on a wrought-iron whatever might sound good to a marketing director, but they can look an awful lot alike.

• Ditto for directional signs that are so low-key as to be unhelpful. If I'm headed to the fifth hole, I don't want to end up on the 15th because part of a palm frond obscured a tiny sign. Subtle is nice, but only to a point.

• Bring back the 150-yard pole or bush. Everybody doesn't carry a rangefinder or want to wander around scanning the fairway for yardages etched on sprinkler heads. Simplicity worked for Harvey Penick.

• Install a Champions Tour match-play event. And institute a better-ball tournament open to pros and amateurs -- men and women, juniors and seniors. Golf doesn't capitalize well enough on the fact that it is a game of a lifetime.

• Golf has a distinctive vocabulary, but some TV announcers -- including former major champions -- don't know the difference between a chip and a pitch. Designing clubs and balls these days might be rocket science, but this isn't.

• It shouldn't be that difficult, either, for the World Golf Hall of Fame to play catch up and find a way to enshrine golfers of earlier eras who have equal -- or in some cases, superior -- records than recent stars who had the benefit of being on television and therefore are more familiar to current voters.

Well, that's the first 100 days. Nothing to it.

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