Ty Gingerich, a very understanding young man and a very serious golfer at the University of Cincinnati, got bounced from a college tournament last week for committing the most heinous of rules. Here it is, Part 2, 3c of The USGA Equipment Rules:
A putter may have two grips provided each is circular in cross-section, the axis of each coincides with the axis of the shaft, and they are separated by at least 1.5 inches (38.1 mm).
Who wrote that, Galileo? Copernicus, Pythagoras, John Daly?
What does that mean? Who uses a putter with two grips? Why must the grips be at least 1.5 inches apart? Is there some sort of blatant advantage to spacing the grips closer together? What is it?
I asked two local club pros Saturday morning. Each looked at me like I had a Titleist stuck in my forehead. “What are you talking about, Doc?” One said.
I honestly do not know. I understand golf has some arcane laws. Its rulebook makes the NCAA handbook look like My Weekly Reader. Gingerich had modified his putter to suit his stroke. It has two grips. They are less than 1.5 inches apart. Some twit at the tournament told the rules folks about it. (Stone that chap with a bucket of X-Outs.)
The rules folks got out the tape measure and – for shame! – the split grips on Gingerich’s putter were less than an inch apart! Rather than summon the FBI, the CIA or Sheriff Taylor, they simply asked the befuddled golfer to leave. “Obviously, I was kinda confused,” Gingerich said Friday.
How does an illegal split-grip confer such an advantage that a player can be DQ’d for using one? “I can not answer that, I have no idea,” Gingerich said. “I’m trying to figure that out myself. They explained it to me. They think it’s unfair. ” The rules violation. Not the rule itself.
To his everlasting credit, Gingerich was graceful about it.
“It’s a rule. I broke it, ” he said. “Golf is different. That’s what makes it unique. You can not get around without being honest and doing things the right way. ”
I like that golfers try to play by the rules. At least the pros do. The rest of us do not consider a foot-wedge to be cheating. We see it as business as usual. Jack Nicklaus once complained when pros playing a muddy track were allowed to wipe off their golf balls on the fairway. “Lift, clean and cheat ” the Eternal One called it. He’d never make it in our group.
In every other sport, rules exist to be skirted. “Gaining an edge” means finding a better way to cheat. Baseball’s cheaters are legendary. Gaylord Perry slimed the baseball. He’s in the Hall of Fame. Football offensive linemen cheat every play, to protect their quarterbacks. Does the NBA even have a rule against traveling?
In golf, players actually report their own violations. Not only do they know the rules, they follow them. Remarkable, until it is not.
Ever watch a tournament where a Rules Guy gets involved? The ball is in some ridiculous, precarious, untenable spot. In Hackdom, a foot wedge would be the only logical response. On Tour, some guy wearing a repp tie and a blue blazer with a crest on the lapel, in 90-degree heat, comes over and stares at the offending pellet like it just shot a puppy.
The player treats the ball like it’s radioactive, until Rules Guy says, ‘you can move it six centimeters in any direction, just not closer to the hole.’ ‘The player’s caddie fishes a centimeter-measurer from the golf bag, the player measures six centimeters and moves his radioactive golf ball the permissible distance. Heaven help the bloke if he moves it 6.5 centimeters.
There are rules against that, possibly inhumane.
At a tournament In 1976, Johnny Miller took a four-shot penalty because somehow his very small son’s putter found its way into daddy’s bag. Too many clubs, big guy.
At the Andy Williams Open at Torrey Pines in 1987, Craig Stadler’s golf ball nestled under a tree. Stadler’s only play was to execute a shot from his knees. He laid down a golf towel to keep his pants dry.
That’s called ‘building a stance’ ‘and it is against the agreed-upon rules of golf, human decency and civilized living. Two-stroke penalty. Stadler finished second. Several years later, the good folks at Torrey Pines invited Stadler back, to chop down the offending tree. He accepted.
But a split grip?
“I’m not here to bash the USGA. The rules are there to help us, ” said Gingerich, before adding, “You could make a case that some aren’t necessary.”
I asked him if the experience had taught him anything about the game or himself.
“I learned my two grips have to be enough apart,” he said.