Herewith is a modest proposal to restore peace of mind to thousands, even millions, of men, women and children. Get rid of par. In this week of the U.S. Open golf tournament, few things this side of Proposition 13 would have so settling an effect on those afflicted souls who tee it up in dogged pursuit of elusive par. Par, thy name is evil.
"Par means nothing." Gary Player said yesterday. "If you shoot 65 or 75, what difference does it make? You are playing golf in either case."
But it does, in fact, make a difference. Hordes of hackers live in fear of par. For them, par is a constant reminder of their failings. Par, damnable par. Par demanding to be met if we are to be judged free of sin. In the dim, departed past, some crusty Scot decided par would be the number of shots an excellent player needed to knock a golf ball from the tee into the cup.
The world has not been the same since. Too many good and fine men have returned home after a round with no pars, there to kick the family dog in the ribs. Women pure of heart have burned the lasagna when in the throes of a parless day. It would be a better world by far if par were abolished and for proof you should open a door and cock an ear to the west this week.
Lamentations will fill the air. The best golfers in the world are golfers in the world are gathered at Denver's Cherry Hills Country Club for the U.S. Open. Par is 71 each day, 284 for the tournament. These wonderful players, 153 of them, will not match par. Dreadful moaning will soon commence.
It happens every Open. For 30 other tournaments, these players ravage par. But when it comes time for the Open, the United States Golf Association decides par is sacred and shall not be defiled. So the USGA makes over the Open course, rendering it invulnerable to infidels who would ruin par. And the players cry out loud.
The fairways are suddenly 30 yards wide not 60. The grass along the fairways is allowed to grow six, seven inches high at which point it falls over and eats golf balls alive. Around the greens, tall grass tickles the golfers' shins.
In these circumstances, only perfection is rewarded with par. A golfer must hit his drive onto the short grass. He must hit his approach shot onto the green. To do less is to make par only with a miracle, and only so many miracles happen each day.
The poor, poor pros then break down. It is a sad sight. Accustomed as they are to the sweet company of par, they make little fists and hold their breath and say naughty words about the USGA.
Common choppers love it. They love to see the pros in distress. Ray Ainsley, whoever he was, lives in folklore here, for in the 1938 Open he confessed to a 19 at one hole. It is said he stood in a stream a half-hour in relentless assault of his golf ball. Were Jack Nicklaus, say, to fetch a quick 11 this week; duffers would pass the hat for funds to build a lasting monument on the spot.
As satisfying as it is to share misery, however, choppers will know ultimate relief only when par is declared deader than Ray Ainsley's ball. Get rid of par. The USGA changed a 486-yard hole from a par 5 to a par 4 here this week, and you'd have thought the pros had been asked to wear bermuda shorts. Scowls filled faces. Unfair, the pros cried. They didn't move the fences back when Babe Ruth got up to 59.
But what, exactly, is wrong here?
It makes no difference if the 486-yarder is a par 5 or a 4. All 153 men will play the same hole.
But the USGA, in its protection of par, knows the surest way to ruin a golfer's day is to deny him an easy par. Take away a par and the golfer is liable to do something crazy, such as retire to sell insurance.
So besides letting the grass grow, the USGA is letting the players' imaginations grow. If the 486-yarder were a left a par 5, everybody would make 4. A birdie hole. But now that it's a par 4, everybody will make a 5. And they'll cry of man's inhumanity to man. Unfair, they'll say.
It is patently fair. "Par means nothing," Gary Player said. What matters is only the total strokes, not the 18 individual scores.
This is a mission without hope. The sadists who run golf will never abolish par. We are condemned to a life of combat with the evil little numbers, and we must be content with the ocasional exhilaration that matching par produces. Yet it is good to hear Gary Player say par means nothing, just as it is nice that he defends the USGA's creation of an Open course.
"I love it," Player said. "Narrow fairways, tall rough, bunkered greens - that's the way it should be. The U.S. Open is the biggest examination you have to face. It's a test of your skill, of your mind. of your courage and determination. In your last year in school, they do not ask you, "What examination paper would you like?" They prepare it for you, and they make it very difficult, indeed."
Scoring records in golf mean nothing, for, as in the marathon, the competitions use varying venues. The test is the thing, not how you did against cursed par. "And the U.S. Open is the supreme test of all," Player said.