There’s a book about golf called Preferred Lies. It’s a wonderful read. Published in 2006, it’s the work of Andrew Greig. The subtitle is A Journey to the Heart of Scottish Golf and it recounts the author’s reconnection with the game to which he returned with renewed enthusiasm after a serious illness. It’s a heartwarming tale of golf, family and life and it’s very well-written.
On the course as opposed to off it, preferred lies are something of a necessary evil. When the course has been saturated, very often the only sensible thing to do is to allow players to clean and place their ball. It’s also the most equitable thing to do. Otherwise, from hitting almost the exact same shot to pretty much the exact same spot one competitor is likely to get mud on his/her ball and another may not, or in any case one player’s ball may attract a minimal amount of mud whereas another’s will have gathered a flight-changing amount of gunk.
Last week was the US Women’s Open Championship, played at Shoal Creek in Birmingham, Alabama. The tournament is run under the auspices of the United States Golf Association and the USGA was adamant that preferred lies would not be in operation. “We have a lot of experience with this sort of thing,” said John Bodenhamer, its head, acknowledging the six inches of rain that had fallen immediately before the championship, wiping out Tuesday’s practice rounds. “We have had 72 of these US Women’s Opens, in fact 117 [men’s] US Opens, playing the ball as it lies and so it’s our intention to do that this week as well.”
The 2007 champion, Cristie Kerr, felt differently. “It’s a joke. There’s going to be mud on every ball. Tropical storms aren’t part of the game.” Stacy Lewis, winner of two majors, agreed. “I’d rather the tournament be decided on good golf rather than luck in whether mud stays on your ball or not.” Two years ago, the final round of the men’s USPGA Championship at Baltusrol, won by Jimmy Walker, was played under preferred lies, a first for that event, but then perhaps the PGA of America, which runs that particular major, are not so dyed in their ways as the USGA.
Re the Andrew Greig reference, another Scottish writer, John Huggan, noted on Twitter on Saturday: “Always giggle when USGA don’t allow preferred lies to protect ‘integrity’ of game. Let’s go back to the 2004 US Open. Play had to be stopped when players began putting into bunkers. The greens were then watered. But were those affected allowed to start again? No. Integrity? Ha!” And he’s a traditionalist!
Anyhow, the world’s most important golf tournament for women concluded last night and it was won by Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand, who beat South Korea’s Hyo Joo Kim at the fourth playoff hole. The 22-year-old from Bangkok had won one previous major, the Ricoh Women’s British Open in 2016, but this was only the second time in five appearances at the US Open that she had made the cut. In other news, the low amateur was Patty Tavatanakit, also from Thailand. We might be seeing in which direction the future of women’s golf is going?
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