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All I want for Christmas....

By Neville Leck Last updated: 17th December 2012

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Charl Schwartzel - celebrating a magical year-end finish

Charl Schwartzel - celebrating a magical year-end finish

Charl Schwartzel could hardly have given himself a better Christmas present than the magical12-shot victory he whisked up in the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek on Sunday.

Apart from the sentimental fact that it was engineered on the same pristine bush veld course where he won his first-ever professional tournament, it came back-to-back with his over-powering 11-shot victory in Asia last week and, to a roll of thunder, spelled out in glittering lights, 'I'm back - and ready for next year. I'm not one of those guys that wins a major and disappears'.

For a weekend warrior like myself, there are a host of gifts in my local seaside links pro-shop that would have me jumping up and down on Christmas day, but for world class golfing millionaires like Schwartzel whose every need, be it clubs, balls or apparel, is taken care of by their sponsors and management teams, it's much more likely that he would prefer a rule change to something you could hang on a tree.

A Lear Jet can't be hung on a tree, true, and, if Schwartzel, who owns a pilot's license and loves flying, doesn't already have his own jet, or, at least, is in the process of getting one, that might be something he'd cherish.

But if his game continues to flourish as it has this month, a jet will come for the 28-year-old - as it has for the bulk of golf's big guns like Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els.

At a recent impromptu clinic conducted by garrulous Gary Player, when a crowd spontaneously gathered around him while he was hitting balls at a commercial Cape Town practice range, South Africa's greatest sportsman joked: "Someone asked me if there is a lot more money in golf now than there was in my heyday. There certainly is. Let me give you an example.

"I always used commercial flights, even at my peak (he won nine majors and more than 100 tournaments world-wide), but today if you happen to be an observer at an airport close to where the next big pro tournament is being played, you will see guys like Tiger, Phil and Ernie all landing in their own private jets.

"And then, behind them," he added with a wicked smile, "You might well see some of their caddies dropping in in their own twin-prop aircraft."

But to get back to the rule change, I think most affluent golfers would like to see listed in black and white in their Christmas stockings (bearing in mind that not all professional golfers are affluent and that there are a good number who have to live in and travel around in campers to survive) I would guess that being able to drop out of fairway divots would be top of their wish list to Santa Claus.

I firmly agree with those pros who feel it is most unfair that a golfer, who has hit a perfectly good drive down the middle of a fairway should be punished when his ball lands in a divot, for even one that has been filled in doesn't begin to provide the same kind of surface that a clean, recently-cut piece of fairway turf does for his next shot, which, more often than not, is an approach shot requiring a high degree of control.

The out-of-bounds rule is another that has annoyed some golfers.

Jack Nicklaus once complained that he found it difficult to understand why a golfer hitting his ball out of bounds should be punished in two ways - by a stroke and by having to play his third shot off the tee again, not from where it went out of bounds (as he would, if he had found a water hazard instead).

Even more ludicrous, the Golden Bear said, was the fact that against this, there is no punishment at all for someone missing his ball altogether on the tee and hitting a 'fresh air'!

OK, so yes, fresh airs are not something that occur in pro-golf, but lets not forget that the rules of golf apply to everyone, even 36-handicappers.

Others top professionals like American young guns Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson might be hoping that Santa can help erase the proposed ban on long-handled putters which both of them use so effectively.

Right now the rule change that, more than anything else, seems to be occupying the minds of the R&A and the USGA, the two bodies who between them control golf around the world, are belly and broomstick putters and the fact that those golfers using them tend to anchor them to various parts of their body.

They've been quite legit for more than two decades, but nobody seemed to worry too much about them until Bradley and Simpson started winning majors and golfing celebrities like Tiger Woods started complaining about them.

2016 is the year the R&A and the USGA have set to enforce a ban on anchored putting, but this matter is far from done and dusted and neither players, for or against the ban, are going to get any joy out of this controversy this Christmas.

Neville Leck



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