Golfing like it’s 1744, or like you’re Dino -- take your pick


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I’m a little tired of all the rules my fellow weekend warriors toss out over a friendly game of golf. Whenever someone starts counting the clubs in my bag, I think of guys like Ian Woosnam back in 2001 who was penalized for having 15 clubs instead of 14 in his bag. Dude, this is not the U.S. Open, can we just get on with it, please? Can we just infuse a little of the spirit found in the new book ‘The Original Rules of Golf’ (Bodleian Library/University of Chicago: $12)? Times were simpler, and so were the rules.

Those rules, formulated in Edinburgh in 1744 -- just 13 of them! -- are introduced by Dale Concannon, who offers a splendid overview of golf’s long evolution, starting with paganica (a game Romans in ancient Briton played with a curved club and a leather-covered ball) and continuing with golf’s expansion into the 19th century. In 1744, things were much more poetic -- your opponent was ‘your adversary’ then -- and straightforward:


Rule No. 7. At Holling, you are to play your Ball honestly for the Hole, and, not to play on your Adversary’s Ball, not lying in your way to the Hole.

And there’s unexpected poetry as well:

Rule No. 10 If a Ball be stopp’d by any person, Horse, Dog, or any thing else, the Ball so stop’d must be played, where it lyes.

I wonder if Joan Didion borrowed from Rule 10 for the title of that novel of hers. ‘The Original Rules of Golf’ is a delight. If things were kept this simple, you wouldn’t have countless experts offering their insights in countless manuals!

As a reluctant connoisseur of many of these guides (one of my favorites, for its economy and clarity, is Lawrence G’s at Sportsmania), I’d have to say the mechanics of golf instruction today are somewhere between Zen Buddhism and lunacy.

What’s A Golfer to Do?” (Artisan/Workman: $16.95) caters to both extremes, offering 343 tips (so much for round numbers) that are highly useful, such as how to roll putts -- the key is to keep that right elbow, if you’re a righty, close to your body -- or else highly dippy. How do you get over first-tee jitters? The answer: “Pretend you’re Dean Martin.” Got it, baby?

Other tips include attaching a golfball with duct-tape to your club to practice swinging harder (don’t forget to take it off when you actually play) and not to overpower your swings but strive for a smooth, relaxed motion -- even when a wide-open fairway is tempting you to unload like a gorilla. Then, there is this muscle relaxation tip, as you’re standing at the tee, which sounds like something you’d hear on a Rodney Yee yoga video: “I want you to maintain a feeling of a soft right leg on the downswing.”

How do I do that? What, with all those people watching me? Instead, I think I’ll just hum a few bars of “That’s Amore,” baby.

-- Nick Owchar