Any comment on golf’s newly adopted rule fourteen-dash-one-b governing the use of the long putter has to begin with the acknowledgement that the game, what remains of it, amid the rubble created by drivers the size of weather balloons and the fractious quarrels of Sergio Garcia, is very often subjected to vaporous hummings on moral intricacies and ancient bylaws by Oldest Members, who once they start talking cannot be stopped as they explore the interminable byways of what passes for controversy with an air of quiet golfy dignity, an attitude which they have currently applied to their appraisal of whether a bracing stance over a three-foot putt is honorable, and to which they have devoted 39 pages, with six sub-sections, and 24 sub-sub-points, written, we can only presume, by people with three-hyphen names.
Pause for throat-clearing.
To some, the controversial ruling by which the United States Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient have banned the “anchoring” of the long putter against any part of the body, whether the roiling stomach, the palpitating chest, or the defensively outthrust Garcian chin, is serious. To others more silly. We are on the side of silly, given that the ultimate arbiter of silliness in golf, P.G. Wodehouse, could have scripted the events of the past week. He once dedicated a book about the game “To the immortal memory of John Henrie and Pat Rogie who at Edinburgh in the year 1593 A.D. were imprisoned for ‘playing of the gowff on the links of Leith every Sabbath the time of the Sermonses.’”
To Wodehouse’s sportive eye, the anchored putter would seem less of an illegal tool or cause for scandalized sermonses than simply a farcical and unsightly expression of desperation, a cry for help from those too unsteady to take a free swing. The type of agonized golfer he described this way: “The least thing upset him on the links. He missed short putts because of the uproar of butterflies in the adjoining meadows.”
He would no doubt regard Ernie Els, Webb Simpson and Adam Scott with their elbows splayed, and wonder how on earth adopting a position that looks like a man standing over a floor mirror admiring himself as he ties a bow tie while also buttoning his overcoat, unless it looks like he is about to plunge a toilet and sweep the bathroom floor at the same time, could be a help rather than a hindrance. To those who suggest the anchor stance allowed Simpson, Els and Scott to win major championships, he would suggest they have lost a lot more tournaments than they have won with it, and that other instruments have been far more distorting to the spirit of the game, among them Garcia’s mouth. And in any event, in golf fate and mental self-sabotage have a tendency to sneak up on every player and hit him from behind “with the bit of lead piping.”
Wodehouse would have probably cast the same sportive eye on the “feud” between Garcia and Tiger Woods, which until Monday consisted of a lot of half-suppressed golf discourtesies, including passive aggressive body language, pulling a club on a backswing, and not logging each other’s cellphone numbers after playing a round together at the Players Championship. Garcia claimed Woods disrupted his play, and Woods disputed him and called Garica a chronic complainer. Which left Garcia in a state best described by perhaps Wodehouse’s greatest line. “I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.”
Then Garcia departed from half-suppressed unpleasantries to unrestrained ones, calling Woods a chronic liar — “I know what he’s like. You guys are finding out,” he said — and snidely remarked he would invite Woods for dinner and serve “fried chicken.” Now that sounded like nothing out of Wodehouse. To the contrary, it sounded just exactly like a racial slur.
Garcia tried to apologize for the remark by calling it “silly.” But we are finding out what Garcia is really like: ignorant, and dagger-mean.
In response, Woods strove to restore a tone of golf gentility, all punctilious decorum on Twitter. “The comment that was made was not silly. It was wrong, hurtful and clearly inappropriate. . . . I’m confident that there is real regret that the comment was made.” But this had a smack of the disingenuous too — next, you expected him to tweet, “What ho.”
What would Wodehouse have made of all of this? A comedy of manners. And perhaps one of those “strange Scottish noises at the back of his throat like someone gargling.” Especially if he happened to notice, while reading Woods’s Twitter account, what Woods tweeted about just prior to the Garcia flaming. “Lots of you have been asking about the shoes I wore at The Players,” Woods wrote. “Yes, they’re new. More info to follow.”
Which provoked one more race through the pages of Wodehouse.
“There are moments, Jeeves, when one asks oneself, ‘Do trousers matter?’ ”
“The mood will pass, sir.”
For Sally Jenkins’s previous columns go to washingtonpost.com/jenkins.