An open and shut case

2004-07-06 12:51
I'm guessing a good number of golf fans don't realise that Greg Norman, Phil Mickelson, Davis Love III, Tom Kite and Colin Montgomerie combined have won fewer major championships (five) that Nick Faldo has alone (six). The problem is not so much with the fans as it is with the people who run the game. We see examples of it all the time.

Earlier this year, when Vijay Singh had a streak of top-10 finishes going, the US PGA Tour touted the fact that he was closing in on a record held by Jack Nicklaus. It was only after some enterprising individuals went digging through old tournament results that the tour admitted that Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan - at least - had much more impressive streaks.

Try as they might, the US PGA Tour can't make what happened before 1968, when the touring pros broke away from the club pros, disappear. Nor should they want to. This history needs to be preserved, recorded and celebrated. The tour should use its considerable resources to compile a definitive record book for the professional game.

All of this comes to mind because of a recent example of the poor communication within the ranks of professional golf. The Royal and Ancient Golf Club recently decided that, beginning with this year's British Open, the exemption a US Open champion gets into the British Open should be reduced from 10 years to five years. And, in a peculiar attempt to deny that history had already happened, the R&A did not grandfather into the British Open those US Open champions who won under the old rules.

And to make matters worse, no one bothered to tell three unfortunate fellows that their history had been erased.

Under the new rules, the US Open champions beginning with 1999 are exempt into the British Open for five years. But that means that Corey Pavin (1995), Steve Jones (1996) and Lee Janzen (1998) are left out of the Open - unless they otherwise qualify - even though they were promised 10-year exemptions when they won the US national championship. The 1994 and '97 US Open winner, Ernie Els, is exempt into the British Open because he won the claret jug in 2002 at Muirfield.

Winners of the Masters and the US PGA Championship always received only a five-year exemption from qualifying for the British Open.

Now back to the really delicious part of all this: No one bothered to tell Pavin, Janzen and Jones that they were no longer on the invitation list. How did this come to be? Well, the finger pointing has already begun.

"I have to be honest," R&A chief executive Peter Dawson told The Sporting Life, a British publication. "We did not get in touch with those players who had lost exemptions and we should have done." But Dawson is not willing to shoulder all of the blame. "We were working with the European and US tours on this and we assumed they were in touch with the players." But that was not the case.

Here is a simple way out of this: Let Pavin, Janzen and Jones into this year's British Open and allow them to be exempt until the 10 years they were promised runs out. It's only fair, and it would not be the first time one of golf's governing bodies admitted a mistake and rectified it.

Until 1995, the PGA Tour did not count the British Open as an official tour victory. As silly as that may seem, the way that mistake was fixed was even sillier. When the PGA Tour started counting the British Open as an official event with John Daly's victory at St Andrews, it did not make the decision retroactive.

That meant that the five British Open titles by Tom Watson or the three by Jack Nicklaus were not included among them. It was not until the 2003 PGA Tour record book that British Open victories before 1995 were counted as PGA Tour victories.

This proves two things. First, it shows that the various ruling bodies of golf - the US PGA Tour, the R&A and the USGA, among others - all fall into the same pit of thinking way too provincially. And how silly that is for the most worldwide of all sports. But secondly, and perhaps most importantly, the reversal on the British Open victory policy by the US PGA Tour shows that a mistake can be rectified, even years later. It was a wise and wonderful thing - widely applauded - when Augusta National Golf Club backpedaled on its effort to keep ineffectual past champions away from the Masters.

Most importantly, Masters officials acted quickly to remedy its mistake. Let's not wait years on the current British Open mess. In fact, there are not years to wait. Pavin, Janzen and Jones need their British Open exemptions reinstated immediately for this year and the rest of the years they were promised. The Open Championship has a field of 156 players. Surely there is room for three guys who have already played their way in.

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