Golf's 10 Rule Is, in a Word, Satisfying

I don't suppose they'll ever put up a statue of me on the driving range at Augusta, or name a tournament after me, but I couldn't help feeling a twinge of satisfaction at the U.S. Open last Saturday when I saw that I had, in effect, kept 15 players in the U.S. Open who would not otherwise have been there.

The circumstances are the least bit complicated, so I will begin at the middle.

Every citizen should have his sights set on some contribution to the public weal. I can't cure the common cold, heal the sick, abolish poverty, but we do what we can. I keep guys in golf tournaments.

Well, maybe I give myself too much credit. It's an old failing of mine. But here's what happened:

In 1957, when I was working for Sports Illustrated, I was assigned to cover the Masters golf tournament when our regular golf writer, Herbert Warren Wind, cut a tendon playing squash.

I was understandably thrilled to be assigned to this queen of all golf tournaments on a course that is a shrine in the game, the Augusta National.

I was less thrilled when I found out that, for the first time in its history, the Masters was putting in a 36-hole cut.

This was because the organizers were smarting under criticism that the Masters had become less a classic golf matchup than a wax museum in cleats.

Only, what they did, they eliminated Ben Hogan. They also ended up losing defending Open champion Cary Middlecoff and 16-win veteran Mike Souchak.

Now, Ben Hogan was Ben Hogan in those days, the greatest player in the game, if not in history, and he missed a cut about every other eclipse of the sun.

You can imagine the feelings of a young writer assigned to his first Masters, a chance to take the Class A adjectives out of the bag--only to find the man he then considered the greatest ever to play the game would not be around to dramatize the prose.

It was galling. The thing that was really frustrating was that Hogan was only a piddling number of shots off the 36-hole lead--10 or 11, as I remember it--when the cut to the low 40 players and ties was put in effect.

On a course like Augusta with a player like Hogan, making up five shots a day on the field was no trick at all. Only the previous year, Jack Burke Jr. had made up eight shots on the last day alone, overtaking and defeating Ken Venturi.

I remember returning to New York, profoundly depressed, to write the story and complaining to Sid James, then the editor of the magazine, about the uncalled-for elimination of Hogan.

"Write it!" he commanded.

So I did.

The chain of events that then took place, as best as I can recall, resulted in the councils of golf taking a look at the problem and decreeing that, henceforth, any player in the Masters could not be cut from the tournament if he was 10 shots from the lead.

The PGA followed suit, followed by the Open.

The PGA used the rule for a number of years but ultimately found it too cumbersome as, on easy courses, it bulked up the field too much, put too many players in the final rounds.

In the Open at the Olympic Club last week, though, the rule let in 15 golfers who would not otherwise have made it. The traditional cut--low 60 players and ties--would have trimmed the field at 145 and included 62 players.

As it was, with the low two-round score Tom Watson's 137, eight players with 146 and seven players with 147 got in on the 10-shot rule.

It would be nice to report that one of the 15 won it. That didn't happen.

But what is nice to report is, all 15 won money. Dan Pohl vaulted all the way from 63rd to a tie for 5th and $15,004. Jodie Mudd went from 72nd to a tie for 7th and $9,747. Don Pooley went from 63rd to a tie for 8th and $7,720. Roger Maltbie got in for $4,240.

You'd think these guys might get together and buy me a tie.

But is it a good rule?

Well, in 1975, Lou Graham was 11 strokes behind the leader--it was Tom Watson that year, too--after the second round of the Open and came back to win it.

In 1960, Arnold Palmer was eight shots behind after two rounds and came on to win it. In fact, he was still seven shots behind after three rounds.

In 1973, Johnny Miller was six strokes behind when he shot his 63 to win it.

The come-from-behind win is the most thrilling sight in any sport, from boxing to horse racing to golf. But golf is the only sport that dismisses you for a poor start.

They don't stop a fight because a guy loses the first five rounds. You can be down two sets and love-5 in tennis and still get to keep serving. You can be 0 for 4 in baseball and still get to bat in the ninth inning.

Ten shots in 36 holes is not outside the realm of capability of any great player.

Besides, what else am I going to be remembered for? The infield fly rule?

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