Sunday, 29 March 2009

Was This the Best Golfing Headline Ever?

I came across an interesting rules incident recently, which in my opinion gave rise to possibly the best Golfing headline ever. I was browsing through an interesting book, ‘Golf Anecdotes: From the Links of Scotland to Tiger Woods’ by Robert Sommers, when a story caught my eye concerning the great English professional golfer, Henry Cotton, while he was playing in the 1956 U.S. Open. It is all the more interesting because it concerns one of the few occasions where a professional golfer has been openly accused of cheating. The brief circumstances were as follows. Henry Cotton, past his prime at age 49, was playing well as he started play of the long, par-4 17th hole, during the first round at Oak Hill Country Club, Rochester, New York. Having missed the green with his second stroke he chipped on and then putted to an inch or so past the hole. Reaching across the hole to tap the ball back in, he either did, or did not, stub the putter on the ground, missing the ball completely, depending on whose version of the incident you believe. In the Rules of Golf the definition of stroke says,

“A stroke is the forward movement of the club made with the int
ention of striking at and moving the ball, but if a player checks his downswing voluntarily before the clubhead reaches the ball he has not made a stroke."

So, if Cotton had intended to move his ball into the hole with his action it was clearly a stroke and must be counted as such. His fellow competitors on the day were Cary Middlecoff (the eventual winner) and Jimmy Demaret, both of whom were convinced that Cotton had definitely made a stroke at his ball, whereas he claimed that he had merely lost his balance as he stretched across the hole and had only stabbed his putter to the ground to steady h
imself. Where there is such a dispute over the facts Rules officials have no choice but to accept the player’s word, but at the end of the round neither Middlecoff nor Demaret would attest his score for that hole. Was it a case of cheating, or not? There is no doubting what the local Rochester, newspaper editor thought. The following day, his classic headline over the report of the incident read, “Britannia Waives the Rules”.

Henry Cotton (right) receiving the Claret Jug - 1937
Credits: Popperfoto / Getty Images
Wishing you good golfing,

Barry Rhodes
Author of ‘999 Questions on the Rules of Golf’

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