The royal & ancient Golf Club's decision to break with tradition and eliminate the so-called 10-shot rule, beginning at next week's British Open, has sparked a debate among players and within the U.S. Golf Association, which is also searching for ways to better manage its championships while accommodating television.
Instead of allowing all players within 10 shots of the lead after 36 holes to advance to the final two rounds—a practice first employed in the majors at the 1957 Masters and adopted by the U.S. Open in 1972 and the British in '85—the R&A will cut to only the top 70 scores and ties. As a result, the R&A will not have to deal with the sort of logistics problems it faced in 1991 at Royal Birkdale, where 113 players from the field of 156 made the cut.
The USGA, which cuts to the low 60 scores and ties plus everyone within 10 shots of the lead, was lucky to avoid a disaster at Oakland Hills in June when a record 108 players advanced. If the weekend rounds had been delayed by rain, the championship could have been pushed back to Monday, which would have made a possible 18-hole playoff problematic for TV. The USGA executive committee will discuss the 10-shot rule next month.
Those who favor retaining the rule say it allows more name players to stick around for the weekend and, more important, leaves the door open for a miraculous comeback, such as the one Lou Graham made at the U.S. Open in 1975, when he came from 11 strokes back on Friday to win. Also, even if it doesn't produce a stunning victory, the 10-shot rule offers additional players the opportunity to qualify for other majors and exemptions. For example, a top-16 finish in the U.S. Open brings with it an invitation to the following year's Masters.
David Fay, executive director of the USGA, favors the R&A's action. Judy Bell, president of the USGA, does not. "The goal is not to make the Open more manageable," she says. "The goal is to determine the best players, and that's what we do."
The Comeback Kid
When avid gambler, recovering alcoholic and thrice-married John Daly won the British Open last July at St. Andrews, you could almost hear some members of the R&A groan. Such noises could be heard again three weeks ago at Turnberry when similarly rough-hewn Warren Bladon won Great Britain's second-most prestigious championship, the British Amateur.
Like Daly, Bladon, 30, is no blue blood. Taking up golf at 14, he taught himself the game on public courses in Warwickshire and by 19 was a scratch player. After leaving school at 16, Bladon set out to become a pro but encountered several stumbling blocks. One was a distaste for practice, which he calls "a wicked bore." Another was his lifestyle. Bladon was suspended from the Leamington golf club in 1989 after a drinking incident. "Buddies and I, we got a bit too drunk, a little rowdy one night," says Bladon. "The club got wind of that, and it didn't sit well with them." In 1992 Bladon was arrested for drunken driving.
Bladon worked odd jobs—primarily as a salesman—to support himself, and from 1990 to '94 he seldom played golf because he couldn't afford green fees. Then this spring, after working for a year in a pub, the Cork & Bottle in Birmingham, England, Bladon decided to give the game one more try. "Standing on the other side of the bar was a rude awakening," he says. "I saw how people throw away their lives to the bottle. I saw how my lax attitude toward golf, toward life, had been a waste."
For winning the Amateur, Bladon received an exemption into next week's British Open and the 1997 Masters and will probably get invited to a few European tour events as well. Bladon wants to remain an amateur through the fall of 1997 to stay eligible for the Walker Cup, after which he might turn pro. "It's taken me longer than most to get my break," he says. "It's hard, in golf, coming from the other side of the tracks. But it's given me a killer instinct, which, finally, I'm learning how to use."