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British Open Forecast: Long-ball Contest!

By John M. Ross,
Royal Lytham
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In possible anticipation of July fireworks, the R&A has added another 14 bunkers to Royal Lytham. (.)

Meetings and conversations between them have been ongoing for months, but the U.S. Golf Association and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club don't appear to be near any kind of compromise on their contrasting views on golf club technology. And this could have a significant effect on who winds up in the winner's circle in this summer's British Open.

In their first serious disagreement on their long-term rules of the game throughout the world, the R&A declined to endorse the USGA's banning of the thin-faced drivers over a year ago. The British fluffed off the results of exhausting testing that indicated that the spring-like effect off the face of this driver provides distance that exceeds standard limitations. The R&A said it was of little consequence and did not go along with the ban.

Recently, the Brits have been giving hints that they are becoming increasingly concerned with the extra distance golfers seem to be getting. But most of the worry about the threat to their championship courses focuses on the golf ball. Indeed, one R&A official has suggested that some of the new balls are providing a bonus of 10 to 15 additional yards.

Since the drivers banned by the USGA, such as Callaway's ERC II, can be used in the R&A British Open, some very interesting scores could be on the board at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. The USGA's test indicated that thin-faced driver types were delivering ten-plus yards off the tee. Now, if you add the 10-15 additional yards provided by the new balls, this turns a hitter into a thumper.

In possible anticipation of July fireworks, the R&A has added another 14 bunkers to the Royal Lytham layout, bringing the total to 196. And that's more sand than they have on the beach at Bali!

If anyone is wondering how many players might have the Callaway ERC II driver in their bags for the British Open, consider this: In the recent Portugal Open on the European Tour, 40 players used it. And only three were on the Callaway staff.

One high-ranking R&A staffer did concede last week that the stalemate between the two golf powerhouses is "bad for the game." Perhaps that could be considered progress on the issue.

This is the third time I've picked up my World Golf Hall of Fame ballot, but I'm still not ready to put it in the mail. There are 34 names on this year's list of eligibles, and going down the line is like a walk down memory lane or a mingling with old friends. According to the rules, I can select only 10, and that's what makes it so difficult.

I've spent more time mulling over a vote for Greg Norman than anyone else on the list. He was on the ballot last year, and he missed getting in by a whisker. A nominee had to receive 75 percent of the vote to earn a place in the hallowed hall. He drew 72.5, and I'm sure this just added to his heartbreak of being runner-up so many other times.

And that's the point of my indecision. Norman certainly is one of our finest players over the last decade or two, and one of the most charismatic. But the strange thing is that when I think of Greg Norman I see a runner-up. I see the pitiful sight of him blowing a few Masters after he had them in his pocket, as well as other disasters.

To be sure, Greg has many stars in his crown, including two British Opens, 16 wins on the PGA Tour, and a long list of titles around the world. He belongs in the Hall, and he'll get there. I simply wish we wouldn't be in such a rush about it.

Back in the early Seventies, when the first World Golf Hall of Fame was being built at Pinehurst, North Carolina, I was with the board that created the structure for the nominating and election process. The task had been put in the hands of the Golf Writers Association of America, and I'm sure I drove my associates up the wall with my pleas for a go-slow process. I simply felt that election to the Hall would have more credibility if we didn't rush to fill the seats.

Happily, that guideline has been followed rather faithfully over the years. In the past 21 elections, 48 honorees have been named; no sign of easy entry there. But that might be changing. This year, the PGA Tour Policy Board, which now oversees the criteria for the election process, has lowered the requirement for election to 65 percent. This may not have an immediate impact on results. Last year, Greg Norman was the only non-elected nominee to exceed 65 percent. But, down the road, it could make entrance to the handsome edifice in Florida a bit less stringent.

The golf writers, about 200-plus, make up the largest block of the voting body, combined with the living Hall of Fame members. But in recent years, the PGA Tour has added a considerable number of others, including their Policy Board, their Advisory Board, and representatives from various golf organizations and the TV entities involved in golf. And there are some who think that this could considerably water-down the validity of the evaluation process of the overall voting body.

We shall see.

In the meantime, what to do about Greg Norman on this ballot?

Donna Caponi doesn't have to sweat out the results of the World Golf Hall of Fame balloting. Members of the LPGA, who have their own rigid formula and do their own voting, honored her this week. And what a perfect choice!

Donna has won 24 LPGA events, two U.S. Opens and two other majors in her glittering playing career, and she is adding more polish to her image with her quality commentary on TV.

Embarrassment continues to mount for Bill Clinton since his departure from the White House. Looking for a club near his new home in the New York suburbs, where he could pursue his favorite game, the ex-president has come up blank. Influential friends have been testing the waters for him, but have received no encouragement. The waters have been icy thus far. Prestigious Winged Foot is reported to be the latest club to turn the other way.

Well, I wouldn't want him in my club, either. And that has nothing to do with politics or morality. It would be like a circus every time he came to the club, what with Secret Service agents, photographers and assorted wackos contributing to the mob scene. And added to that is the notation he will earn in the Guinness Book of World Records that cite him as the U.S. President who has taken the most mulligans in golf!

Not in my club, Mr. President! And don't tell me about your wife being a U.S. Senator!

(c) Copyright John M. Ross

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