I have always been thankful that the governing bodies
of golf on both sides of the Atlantic have resisted changes in the rules.
Throughout the years there have been plenty of suggestions for changes, but few
have been made. The one instance which I think was a real mistake was the
elimination of the stymie.
It has been appalling to me to find that there are
golfers of today who do not even know the meaning of "stymie." Twenty
years ago I should not have dreamed that it would ever be necessary to explain
that a stymie results, in match play, when one ball on the green interposes
some or all of its mass between the other ball and the hole. For a while, in
the U.S., the offending ball could only be removed if it was within six inches
of the hole, which was tantamount then to concession of the remaining putt; but
now a player may insist upon its removal from any distance if he "considers
that it might interfere with his play."
Two aspects of the stymie (under the rules in force at
the time I played) must be understood. If the balls lie so that the space
between them is less than six inches, the nearer one may be lifted. Thus, if a
player's first putt should leave his ball less than six inches from the hole,
he cannot be stymied. Also, within a radius of two feet, a competent player can
make, almost every time, any stymie that may be laid him. It is not likely,
therefore, that anyone will ever lose a hole by reason of a stymie unless he
has left himself in a vulnerable position.
It has been said that the stymie is unfair, that it
brings a factor of bad luck into the game. True, it can, but it is not typical.
One might say, for instance, that my win on the 19th hole at St. Andrews over
Cyril Tolley (see page 82) was a lucky win. This was a typical stymie
situation, but did luck play a part in it? I had played the hole better all the
way, after the tee shot. The question is: How much better must a man play a
hole in order to be entitled to win it?
With the stymie in the game, match-play golf becomes an
exciting duel in which the player must always be on guard against a sudden,
often demoralizing thrust. More than anything else, it points up the value of
always being closer to the hole on the shot to the green and after the first
putt. The player who can maintain the upper hand in play up to the hole rarely
suffers from a stymie.
In my observation, the stymie has more often been the
means of enforcing a decision in favor of the deserving player, rather than the
contrary. I think that today as in the past it merits a respected place in the
game. I know that a return to it would greatly enhance the interest, suspense
and excitement of match-play golf for player and spectator alike.