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Putter Abuse:
Victim or Culprit?

Putter abuse is not uncommon. Of all the clubs in the bag the putter must be the one that is subject to the most damage - both physical and libellous. Once a trusted friend, it becomes a figure of disdain; something to hate, not love.

Sometimes the game cannot be endured with a club in one’s hand.

Bobby Jones

In the course of history putters have been abused in more ways than there are bristles on a paintbrush. They have been angrily broken over the knee, stomped on, and called all the names under the sun.

The carnage of putter abuse continues with putters being thrown in disgust into greenside lakes and nearby trees, smashed mercilessly into golf carts and tee boxes in a fit of pique, and ceremoniously dragged behind a car before being confined to the basement.

This is just to mention a few of the punishments it has received for stubborn non-performance.

Tony Dear in his book Every golf question you ever wanted answered mentions some memorable quotes on club throwing.

"The most exquisitely satisfying act in the world of golf is that of throwing a club. The full backswing, the delayed wrist action, the flowing follow-through, followed by that unique whirring sound, reminiscent only of a passing flock of starlings, are without parallel in sport". Henry Longhurst

"The young guys have got it all wrong. They throw the club backwards. You should always throw it forwards so you don’t have to walk extra distance to get it". Tommy Bolt

What is it with missing a short putt that transforms a mild-mannered, reasonable mortal into a different person in the manner reminiscent of the TV character the Incredible Hulk?

"Heav'n has no Rage, like Love to Hatred turn'd,
Nor Hell a Fury, like a Woman scorn'd"
William Congreve, in The Mourning Bride, 1697

The above sentiment could easily be paraphrased into "hell has no fury like a golfer scorn'd". For when the clouds grow dark and ill winds start to blow, it is wise to stay silent and give the demonic golfer a wide berth.

Many years ago I quipped cheerfully "You’re still away" to a competitor who was in the process of three-jacking. What followed was an extremely tense moment. It would seem that there is no place for humour in bad putting.

The annals of golf are filled with instances of putter abuse with golfers loosing their calmness and reducing their putter to a non-conforming club.

The Rules are quite clear on how to proceed once sanity is restored. If, during a stipulated round, a player’s club is damaged other than in the normal course of play rendering it non-conforming or changing its playing characteristics, the club must not subsequently be used or replaced during the round. The penalty for breach of the rule is disqualification.

The term 'normal course of play' is intended to cover all reasonable acts but specifically excludes in this case putter abuse.

Examples of acts that are not in the 'normal course of play' include bending the shaft of the club in anger; slamming the club into the ground; or intentionally striking something with the club other than during a stroke, practice swing or practice stroke.

Some would argue that the above rule for putter abuse is overly harsh. After all, it can easily be proved that the golfer was momentarily suffering extreme stress. It could be that a putter with an altered shape is the pathway to a better stroke.

In tennis when a player reduces his or her racquet to a mangled wreck by pounding it into the ground, the punishment for a first offence is usually a verbal warning.

The club of choice to use when your putter has been decommissioned is most often the wedge. However, I have observed drivers, three-woods and long irons being pressed into action.

Even the most accomplished putters have suffered the ignominy of having to putt with a substitute club. Ben Crenshaw, ignoring in part Tommy Bolt’s warning of "never break your putter and your driver in the same round or you’re dead" broke the shaft of his putter at the 6th hole in the 1987 Ryder Cup at Muirfield Village.

He putted at first with his sand wedge and then with his one-iron eventually losing his singles match to Eamonn Darcy one down. The Europeans went on to win the 27th playing of the Ryder Cup 15-13.

It took Woody Austin ten years to change the way he is recognised as a golfer.

Way back in 1997 on missing a putt during the Verizon Heritage at Hilton Head, South Carolina he struck his head with his putter a number of times in the process bending the shaft. The incident of putter abuse was to plague him as he became known to his annoyance as the golfer who wacked himself on the noggin.

However, at the 7th President’s Cup it all dramatically changed. On the 14th hole at the Royal Montreal Golf Club he entered a water hazard, stumbled, and slipped on a rock forcing him to dive head first into the water. Vijay Singh scored the dive an eight. Woody’s new persona is now that of Aquaman.

At the 2002 Australian PGA tournament at the Hyatt Regency Resort in Coolum, Queensland John Daly made an unceremonious exit after throwing his putter and ball into the lake on the 18th green.

As he declined to sign his scorecard the officials were forced to disqualify him. Daly, who was mourning the death of his mother two weeks before, had had a tortuous day trying to avoid the cut.

He was upset over an official ruling on where to take a penalty drop on the 13th hole and played the final six holes in nine over. Finishing the round, he shook hands with his playing partners Greg Norman and Craig Parry and stormed off to pack his bags.

However, on this occasion the story has a happy ending. Divers searching for lost balls retrieved Daly's ball and putter, both of which have been added to a memorabilia collection in the Hyatt Regency resort clubhouse.

Daly, who abandoned his golf bag at the 18th green after Friday's round, later donated the bag and his clubs to the Australian branch of the Make-A-Wish foundation for a future charity auction.

Putter abuse remains part of the game of golf. It can be performed quietly over your knee as in the case of an embarrassed Nick Price or flamboyantly with all the exhibitionism of a showman. It is amusing to watch, but for the purists it remains an act of vandalism.

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