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Original Issue


SI's golf columnist answers a British critic of the U.S. scene with comments of his own

Henry Longhurst, the extremely able and eloquent golf correspondent of the London Sunday Times, recently published a column summing up his impressions of the American golf scene—1954. Among other things Henry deplored the current overmarking of balls on the green and the American addictions for playing "winter rules" the year round, conceding four-foot putts, and insisting on easy-to-recover-from traps and tame roughs. All of these excesses are pursued, Henry stated, because the American golfer is primarily intent on a low score and not on playing an enjoyable round.

Henry's column was entitled "Should We Secede?" and his implicit answer was that British golfers certainly should, in order "to preserve the long-cherished traditions of golf as we have known it and to hand it on unchanged to successive generations...."

At the risk of sounding like a body of Yankee senators remonstrating with John C. Calhoun, a great many of Henry's American friends feel that advocating secession represents a rather extravagant reaction to the present state of American golf. Sure, they agree, there isn't a golf club here that hasn't its quota of score-happy players and, sure, a transfusion of the low-pressure charm of British golf club life would do no harm at all to most of our maple-shaded mosques of the Texas-press bet. But, it might be added, isn't that rather old cap and, anyway, haven't Americans tugged at it harder than anyone?


Taking it the other way, one of the most important events that has recently transpired in sports was the realization by the U.S.G.A. and the R & A only a few years ago that it was time for both lawmaking bodies to agree on a common set of rules to be followed by golfers everywhere. This was effected, and there has been some talk that the U.S.G.A. and the R & A may get together shortly to see if they can't do away with the one remaining "big difference," the variation in the English and American balls, and prescribe one official ball from which every golfer in the world can look up just before impact.

Of course, even on that day when absolute uniformity theoretically exists, there will still be a great many differences between British and American golf. For example, consider the superiority American pros have held ever since Hagen busted through. It really goes all the way down to the different economic and social setups in the two countries. A young American of 20, for instance, Who plays an impressive game of golf and lacks any other career opportunity, frequently chooses to see if he can make his way in golf. The inducements are considerable. Should he fail to make the grade in the rough vortex of tournament golf, he is fortified by the knowledge that there are hundreds of excellent home-pro jobs and that the man who holds such a post normally makes out very well financially and occupies a very nice place in the community.

The young British golfer of equal promise has no such incentive for gravitating to golf as a career. At a few clubs in Britain the professional now walks in the front door, but by and large Henry Cotton, who started a notch higher in the social scale than most pros in that less flexible society, is the only British pro who has made his golf skill do for him what it has done for a large number of his American colleagues.

The same socio-economic conditions have made for a sizeable difference between British and American amateurs. It is difficult to think of a single postwar British Walker Cup player who was not limited by time and funds to being little more than a strictly weekend golfer. Since "sponsored jobs" for topflight amateurs are apparently nonexistent, golf is strictly the British amateur's avocation. On the other hand, take the case of Harvie Ward, by no means a unique one among American amateurs, but the first that comes to mind. Harvie is employed as an auto salesman, but every time you look into the paper he seems either to be playing in some tournament or in some exhibition match. By our prevalent definition, this is perfectly legal for an amateur as long as he doesn't gain a direct financial profit from his skill as a golfer. It's a very complicated business, amateur golf, but when an amateur devotes more time to his golf than to his job, here is one area in which our national circumstances seem to have placed us on a less sound tack than the British.