The vulnerability of golf, a game in which the competitor is official score-keeper (for his opponent) and often rules interpreter, was spotlighted this summer with the furor over "illegal grooves" in the irons used by many players on the pro tours.
The fact that the clubs were product of a manufacturer's error did not prevent some people from snickering that Tom Watson's victories in the Masters and British Open should be considered as illegal as the irons he was using. And when it was discovered in midtournament that some women pros, including the first-round leader, had been using clubs produced by the accused manufacturer and the LPGA's response was to wait until next week to check, golf's image was little helped.
Of course, the episode would not have occurred when it did had not one of the pros, George Burns, disqualified himself after checking the grooves on his club after the first round of the Hartford Open.
But while the groove affair proved to be more joked about than scorned, the possibility of cheating on the golf tour always has been a real fear.
There have been disqualifications for minor indiscretions and one struggling young player was suspended for changing his scorecard in order to make the cut in a tournament, but the men's pro tour has never had a scandal.
The ladies, however, had l'affaire Blalock, which threatened to dissolved the women's tour. Jane Blalock, one of the tour's outstanding young players, was accused by several of her fellow competitors of consistently moving her ball on the green to her advantage. The executive board of the LPGA suspended Blalock for the remainder of the 1972 season.
Blalock fought the suspension with a lawsuit, which claimed a group of her peers (the members of the executive board) had no right to suspend Blalock because they (the executive board members) stood to benefit by the absence from the tour of one of its finest players.
"The Guts to Win" is part biography and part Blalock's thoughts on golf, the tour and her fellow players. Were it not for the chapters on this suspension, lawsuit and return to the tour (after winning her suit), Blalock's story would be terribly thin. Even so, her story is understandably one-sided and only the telling of Blalock's relationships with her accusers (Cynthia Sullivan, Marlene Hagge, Sharon Miller) and the player who gave her the most support, Sandra Palmer, give the tale a touch of realism.
Aside from her personal story, the only Blalock observation of interest is that she feels that if glamor girl Laura Baugh were to become a superstar, it would be the best thing ever for the LPGA tour. However, Blalock has no admiration for Baugh's swing, so despairs that the young beauty will ever be a champion.
Perhaps Blalock should have waited until she had passed her playing peak before reopening wounds with this book. She probably has a more interesting story to tell than the one in "The Guts to Win."
Dave Hill, long an outspoken member of the men's tour, also writes about cheating in "Teed Off." He says it's going on all the time: four of five players a week by his count. "One player high on the list of all-time money winners has cheated for years," writes Hill. ". . . I always say he's advanced the ball farther illegally than Jimmy Brown has carried it for the Cleveland Browns."
Hill says the most common form of cheating occurs on the greens: moving the ball slightly to avoid an irregularity on the putting surgace. The occasions that they play "winter rules," preferred lies, also allows players to take unfair advantage and Hill accuses one unnamed fading star, now retired, of getting amazingly good lies in the rough, after hustling ahead of his playing partners to reach his ball.
Predictably, Hill tees off on more than cheating golfers. He berates many of his fellow pros who, he says, are making $200,000 a year and still feel the world owes them a living. He complains that the pros little appreciate the fans, officials and sponsors.
Hill writes, "A player like Bruce Crampton always seems to be bawling out a marshal for some terrible offense such as scratching his nose at the wrong time. The marshal is probably the president of a local bank . . . who's bought a $500 sponsorship to help his hometown tournament. Next year he's liable to save himself the misery."
Hill is candid with his observations of fellow pros; U.S. Open winner Hubert Green ("something of a smart aleck") is not one of Hill's favorite people.
And, despite Hill's moderate success on the tour these days, the chapter on shotmaking is interesting and constructive.
Altogether, "Teed Off" is a breezy, gossipy, iconoclastic view of the tour by a man never too shy to speak his piece.