Whenever in the old days I took an iron club in my hand, I could tell to within two or three yards not only where the ball would pitch, but where it would stop. That was possible for any player who practised assiduously with the gutty. It is certainly not possible with the rubber-core. In fact, I fancy everybody is, at times, between two minds as to how it would be best to play a really ordinary shot. No game would be worth pursuing unless luck entered into it in some measure, but the rubber-core in golf has introduced the elements of indecision and uncertainty into the player's mind. In that respect, golf has become more of "a thinking game" than ever; the misfortune is that the thoughts seldom lead to clearly-established principles.
There is, however, at least one exception to this rule. Among the players who have been trained mainly on the rubber-core, there certainly seems to be an established and generally practised mode of executing long shots, and it is a mode which is affecting the standard of the game. Reference has been made above to a method of hitting the shots different from that which prevailed in the gutty days. The difference is that most people now play for a pull. In the matter of golf, we are becoming a nation of natural pullers. This even applies in the majority of cases to the men who made themselves as near perfect as could be with the gutty ball. I fancy that nearly everybody is standing just a trifle more forward than in former times, in order to produce in some degree the effect of the pull and consequent run. Very rarely do you see a man trying chiefly for the "carry," which is, I venture to assert, the proper and, in the end, most satisfactory way of playing golf.
Naturally, it took some time for golfers to learn the possibilities of the rubber-core. Gradually, however, they realized that the greatest length could be obtained from it by playing a flat shot with pull, with the result that, during recent years, this style of stroke has become predominant. Players of all degrees of ability have discovered it, and they employ it habitually. Many have lighted upon it and made it their manner without setting out in any way to learn deliberately how to pull. It is hard to convince oneself that it looks well, or even that in the end it is profitable. Sometimes the ball flies so low and comes to the ground so soon that one might almost imagine that the player had missed the shot. But no, it is his method, and the ball runs and runs and does all that is necessary.
So far, so good; but where this low-pulled shot is a real menace to the standard of the game is in the fact that it is becoming ingrained in the golfing constitution. It is becoming so essentially a habit that the golfer cannot get out of the way of doing it when it would be to his advantage to know nothing about it. It enters into his iron shots. They, too, are played with pull, because that is his natural way of playing. So that when he finds himself in a situation which demands the old-fashioned kind of pitch shot (and he is often so placed), he is at a disadvantage. Sooner or later championships, scratch medals, and everything else will be won by players who had not the benefit of learning the game with the gutty. Unless a great change takes place in the present trend of golfing style, all those winners will be pullers by instinct, capable of getting a very fine distance with the long shots, but unable to forget, when executing iron approaches, their natural inclination. Such, at least, is the impression which I have formed after studying the game as deeply as ever since the introduction of the rubber-core, and I cannot think that this phase of the evolution is good. 2
There is one way in which it can be discouraged. It is by demanding a long carry from every tee. For the short driver (if such a person there be) there could be a way round so that he should not be in trouble every time he reached the limit of his powers. Golf is for the multitude; not for plus and scratch players only; and I realize to the full that it is necessary for the average course to be of a character which will afford enjoyment to moderate players as well as to good ones. But if scope were given for a really big carry from every tee, with a path offered to the shorter driver whereby he would not be punished if he hit the ball properly, albeit he might lose half a shot to the man who accomplished the carry, in these circumstances inherent pulling would be checked. The swing which, in a general way, is undoubtedly getting shorter, would resume its old length and rhythm because the good player, at any rate, would be induced to go for the carry.
And that would mean hitting the shot just as it was hit with the gutty. I am aware that this plan would not be practicable in all places, but it would be possible in many.
An instance may perhaps be given of the way in which the golfer of the rubber-core age is handicapped. Some time ago I played nine rounds of a course with a man who, during recent years, has greatly distinguished himself. He is a fine golfer, but his style is essentially of the kind that has become general since the introduction of the rubber-core. One of the holes called for a carry of quite 190 yards - an exceptionally fine hole I thought. Perhaps in the same circumstances, anybody else would have thought the same. A river and a large bunker were among the obstacles that rendered necessary the big carry, while on either side were chestnut trees. It was not supremely difficult to the gutty-trained player, and I managed to get on to the green eight times in nine attempts. My opponent, playing what I would call the golf of the rubber-core age, did not get on once. He could not carry far enough. I am mentioning this in no spirit of arrogance. It simply shows the difficulty which besets the golfer of modern methods when the necessity arises for him to abandon the low flying shot with pull. He finds that he cannot easily shake off his habitual mode of operation. And that necessity will always arise, because if all the courses in the world could be altered to suit the peculiarities of the rubber-cored ball, golfers, being human, would still miss strokes or send them off the line in such a way as to revive the need for high shots with little run.
This, then, is why I think it would be best from every point of view if golfers played for the carry instead of for the run, and why I suggest that a long carry from the tee should be encouraged. For ordinary purposes, that is to say, for the clubs with a considerable majority of members who play only about twice a week, and who want to crowd enjoyment rather than painful experience into those two days, there is no reason why golf should be made excessively difficult, but there is a difference between very trying holes and those which merely call forth the subterfuge of the pull-and-run stroke. The rubber-core, as compared with the gutty, has not greatly increased the carry; the revolution has been created by the run. Under normal conditions, the Haskell put about twenty yards on to our shots, and I suppose that the latest types of rubber-cores have added about forty yards to the length obtainable with the Haskell. That is, of course, without the aid of wind or sloping ground. The carry in ordinary circumstances has not altered very much, and in continuing the demand for it lies the best chance of preserving some of the qualities of gutty-ball golf which, in the opinion of nearly all who are qualified to judge, was the best kind of golf.
Nowadays, by playing for the pulled shot, it is possible to get truly extraordinary distance. One often reads of record drives, but I am sure that dozens of the longest drives have never been measured. In the summer of 1911, when the ground was so favourable to the run, there must have been lots of shots of more than 400 yards. I know that at the long hole at Totteridge, which measures 540 yards, I was regularly getting on to the green with a drive and a niblick. A mashie for my second would have meant going too far. Players in other places were assuredly having similar experiences. It is all very good fun while it lasts, but it is not good practice for the pastime in its entirety.