Henry Beard’s History of Golf
In Golf, An Unofficial and Unauthorized History of the World’s Most Preposterous Sport, author Henry Beard has charted an irreverent story from the game’s inception to the present day.
Written in a breezy style, the various short chronological entries detail the seminal moments in golf’s history followed by what the author calls, “explications, amplifications and digressions” remarking on those events, often in hilarious fashion.
Beard, a noted humor writer who co-founded National Lampoon and served as its editor during the magazine’s heyday during the ‘70s, also penned The Official Exceptions to the Rules of Golf, a wry look at the often confounding rules.
The book was released in December. Below in an excerpt from the chapter chronicling the tumultuous era beginning in 1988, a period that would still resonate more than 20 years later with the introduction of new groove regulations.
Curtis Strange wins the first of two consecutive U.S. Opens. His successful defense of the title the following year would mark the first time any player had captured the trophy twice in a row since Ben Hogan’s storied back-to back wins in 1950 and 1951. Much impressed with his own feat, Strange exuberantly exclaimed, “Move over, Ben Hogan,” to which the Hawk responded with the tart and astute riposte, “Make room, Jack Fleck.” Strange never won again on the Tour.
Ignoring the trivial threats to the integrity of the game posed by several looming innovations like the long-shafted putter, the oversized titanium-headed Big Bertha driver, and golf balls that are clearly capable of being hit well over 350 yards, the USGA decides to ban as nonconforming the grooves on the clubfaces of Ping Eye 2 Irons.
Four golfers score holes in one on the par-3 6th hole at Oak Hill on the same day during the U.S. Open. The USGA toys with the idea of placing the pin in an active sprinkler head for the following round but reluctantly decides that the resultant intermittent wetting of the nearly dead bent grass on the putting surface will only serve to allow players who land their tee shots on the laughably fast green but who do not make an ace to somehow rescue par.
Having failed to realize that in Ping founder and owner Karsten Solheim they have, amazingly enough, encountered an individual as obstinate, arrogant, conceited, and boneheaded as they are, the governing board of the USGA quietly settle the lawsuit he brought against the organization, modifying the iron-groove ban to grandfather in the original clubs and apply the new regulations only to future models. Chastened, they turn their attention to more pressing issues, legalizing hollow-headed plastic bunker rakes, setting a maximum amount of cleaning fluid in ball washers as one gallon (3.78 liters), and establishing an overall standard diameter of 3 inches (76.2 mm) for golf cart cup holders.
Following a controversy during the PGA Championship at Shoal Creek Golf Club in Birmingham, Alabama, the PGA announces that it will no longer hold tournaments at golf clubs that do not have at least one African-American and one woman member. Seeking to close a pair of potential loopholes, the PGA further stipulates that the African-American member must not have been deceased at the time of his election, no matter how recent his demise, and the woman member must not be inflatable.
Belatedly bowing to the inevitable, the R & A agrees to adopt as a worldwide standard the USGA’s specification of 1.68” for the diameter of the golf ball but retains the British guideline of no more than 3 ½ hours for the time allotted for the completion by a four-ball match of a competitive 18-hole round of golf, as opposed to the American norm of 5 ¼ hours, and preserves the local custom of expressing disdain to a fellow players by pumping the right arm in a vigorous upward motion of the fist with the left hand held in the crook of the right elbow, rather than simply extending the middle finger of the right hand.
Fresh from his costly Pyrrhic victory over the USGA in the groove wars, Karsten Solheim and his wife, Louise, establish the Solheim Cup, a Ryder Cup-style competition designed to contribute to the cause of gender equity in golf by providing an equal opportunity for leading American and European lady professionals to engage in the kind of rotten, ugly, boorish, shabby, and unsportsmanlike behavior in an international match play event that had up until now been the sole prerogative of the premier male golfers. The Ben Hogan Tour is created as a minor-league feeder system for the PGA Tour. It will later be known as the Nike Tour, the Buy.com Tour, the Nationwide Tour, and the United States Treasury Troubled Asset Relief Program Multibillion-dollar Bailout Tour.
Added to the field at the last moment when Nick Price unexpectedly withdraws, the ninth alternate, an unheralded rookie named John Daly, wins the PGA Championship at Crooked Stick with an unparalleled display of ball-striking power and putting magic that makes him an instant and lasting crowd favorite. A true, original who breaks the mold of the lean, bland, clean-living clones who dominate the modern Tour, Daly not only drives the ball farther and putts better than they do, he also smokes, drinks, gambles, and has marital troubles, which makes his enormous appeal to regular duffers no mystery, since although none of them has his prodigious length off the tee or his deft short game touch, many of them have mastered most, if not all, of the other four key elements of his distinctive golfing persona.
Ian Woosnam, the bantam golf sensation from Wales, wins the Masters. Caught off guard by Woosie’s out-of-nowhere victory, Augusta Chairman Jack Stephens toys with the idea of Welshproofing the course by planting plump and tasty-looking leeks in the rough and filling the bunkers with a savory melted cheese concoction, but after consulting an atlas in the club’s vast, five-volume library and discovering that Wales is not, as he thought, a populous state in the golfing powerhouse nation of Australia, but rather a tiny principality in the west coast of England, he concludes that the odds of future conquest by hordes of Cumbrian golfers are slim.
Phil Mickelson wins the Northern Telecom Tucson Open at age twenty, becoming the last amateur player thus far to achieve a victory in a regular PGA Tour event. A natural right-hander playing against his dominant side, Mickelson would appear to have created for himself an unnecessary obstacle to mastery of an already challenging game by adopting the seemingly unnatural southpaw setup, but this counterintuitive approach proves to be both an effective ball-striking method and a shrewd career strategy for the agreeable but streaky and often headstrong player who, in spite of a somewhat spotty record, will nevertheless manage, with relatively little effort, to instantly vault to the top of the list of greatest left-handed players of all time.
On the 18th hole of the final match of the Ryder Cup at Kiawah Island, Bernhard Langer misses a 7-foot putt to hand a narrow victory to the U.S. side in the aptly names “War on the Shore.” Langer is devastated by the defeat, but, really, he should have remembered that Germans tend lose these war things, and anyway, on the bright side, his yipped knee-knocker was nowhere near as mortifying as Hitler’s two shots on the bunker in Berlin in 1945.