Ask any of my golf buddies and they will tell you that I tend to carry more than the 14-club limit the rules allow. My late friend, Mike Murphy, used to refer to my golf bag as "a travesty." Being in the media, I get to test and try new clubs all the time. I hate not having my trusty old version with me if the new one happens to not quite work for me.
Watching the Masters this weekend, I heard a story on how Phil Michelson considered only carrying 12 clubs in his bag. I'm sure his caddy would have liked the lighter weight, but I cannot see why one would take less clubs than the rules allow. Phil stated that he found that over all his rounds at Augusta National, he had used only 12 clubs out of his arsenal.
This entire thing started me thinking about why the rules give us 14 clubs. Why not 18 or 10? I was determined to find out. Perhaps I could find a loop-hole that allows me to carry an extra driver or wedge without being ridiculed.
There is a famous old painting of King Charles I of England playing golf at the Links of Leith in Scotland back in 1641. Next to the King stands a young man holding his Majesty's clubs. All six of them. It seems that I would have had a difficult time playing this game nearly 375 years ago.
Into the mid-1800s most paintings and other depictions of golfers, show players and caddies carting along an assortment of clubs, but never more than eight or nine. It seems our sport's forefathers had the skill and imagination to hit many, if not all, shots with just a few clubs.
Then along came Lawson Little, winning the U.S. And British Amateurs in 1934 and 1035 with a collection of around 30 clubs in his bag. If you think the USGA and the R&A are upset over 'anchoring" your putter, you can imagine the uproar over Little's bag.
If the use of 30 clubs surprises you, Little had good reason. Before the mid-1920s wood shafts were all that were approved for play. When the USGA and the R&A approved the use of steel in shafts in the late 1920s golfers now had a shaft that was stronger, lighter and more consistent. The problem was steel shafts took time to get used to. As a result players felt that the new shafts inhibited their ability to work the ball and create a variety of shots from one club. To make certain they could hit any shot they faced during a round, they began to carry more clubs.
In 1935 one player showed up with 32 clubs in his bag. He had a full set of right and left handed clubs so that he could hit any and every possible shot from any place on the course. This fanned the flames for some sort of ruling by the powers in charge of protecting the game.
George Jacobus, president of the PGA of America, asked the ruling bodies if they had any plans to restrict the number of clubs allowed for a player and stated that his organization would back any such rule.
Fortunately for both the USGA and the R&A, the industry already had a solution, a new equipment idea, the matched set of clubs. Up until the 1920s players carried all sorts of mismatched clubs. Then in 1926, Scotsman George Nicoll introduced the first matched set. By decade's end all manufacturers had introduced a matched set of nine irons.
Surveys were taken at the U.S. Open and British Amateur in 1935 and it was found that the average player was carrying 18 clubs. This concerned the USGA as it felt that such a large number of clubs took away from the skill factor of competitive golf. It also felt it caused inequality between those wealthy enough to afford a large cache of clubs and those who could not.
In 1938 the 14-club limit went into effect. No one truly knows how they came to that number, but many believe that it was the acceptance of nine matched irons, plus a putter and four woods that gave them the total. It's been that way ever since.
The Michael Murphy Memorial Golf Outing
A few weeks back I mentioned that I was putting on a memorial golf outing for my late friend and radio co-host. I now have all the details.
On Sunday, May 18th the Inaugural Michael Murphy Golf Outing will take place at St. James Golf Club in Port St. Lucie. We will be having lunch at 11:00 am with a shotgun start at noon.
I'd like to invite anyone who would like to join his friends and family to celebrate his life.
Cost is only $30 and includes lunch, golf and a few prizes. Please drop me an email to sign up.
James Stammer has been an avid golfer and golf enthusiast for nearly 40 years. He hosts the Thursday Night Golf Show on WSTU 1450-AM. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.