Among the many rules that govern the game of golf, there is one very simple one. Rule 4.1b states that the player must not have more than 14 clubs in his bag. When does this obligation date and why was it instituted?
At the end of 2021, an old cador on the circuit is alarmed about the evolution of the game.
The Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez, who is today enjoying the heyday of the Champions Tour at 58, does not like the robotization of his young colleagues . Clearly there are no more ball handlers capable of stirring up the crowds by playing improbable shots.
Jimenez wants a 10-club limit. For “El Mecanico” (nothing to do with his swing) there is a solution: reduce the number of clubs authorized to 10 against 14. The player would thus be led to think and play the shot differently.
Not sure that the equipment manufacturers agree… In any case, the USGA and the R&A, which govern the laws of the game, did not react. It’s hard to change, even a rule that is “only” 84 years old! Rule 4.1b is intended to limit the number of clubs in his bag to 14, including the putter.
The player can have less and add more during the round.
Furthermore, the player may not share a club with a partner or replace a damaged club unless he did not cause the damage. Breaking rule 4.1b results in a penalty. This depends on when the player realizes his fault.
He then incurs two penalty strokes per hole with a maximum of four strokes (thus over two holes). In match play, the penalty is the deduction of a hole in the score with a maximum of two holes. Supposed to know the rules, the champions and their caddies sometimes have their heads in the air and break them.
In 1983, Jack Nicklaus caddyed his son Gary for the qualifications at the US Open. He realizes a little late that he has two irons 4 in the bag. His and his son’s. Result: 4 penalty strokes… and the son eliminated. The most famous case is that of Welshman Ian Woosnam at the 2001 Open at Royal Lytham & St.
Anne’s. In the lead on the last lap, he was close to the hole-in-one on the first hole: birdie. At the start of hole 2, his caddy, Myles Byrne, very embarrassed, warns him that he has two drivers in his bag… His two penalty shots will cost him the victory.
His shopping cart? Fired two weeks later for arriving late for a departure. For decades, golfers had wooden clubs as their only weapon and there was no limit to their number. It all started when steel clubs were authorized in 1929.
Most champions hesitated to change their equipment. When in doubt, it was not uncommon to see their caddies carrying a clever mix of hickory and steel clubs or even two bags at the same time! Among the most emblematic champions of this drift, the American Lawson Little hardly worried about the state of the back of his caddy.
The double winner of the US and British Amateur 1934 and 1935 used to have up to 31 clubs including 7 wedges and a left-handed club! However, a survey carried out during the 1935 US Open showed that the average number of clubs used by players was 18.
For the record, Francis Ouimet won the 1913 US Open with 7 clubs… For the British and American authorities, “enough is enough”. The equipment having evolved too quickly in their eyes, they are beginning to think about limiting the number of clubs.
Like… Jimenez today, the R&A and the USGA believe that ball handling is in jeopardy and that golf may no longer be a game of skill. Another consideration, social this one: the rich would have an advantage over the poorest classes for the purchase of equipment.
Thus, the 14-club rule was discussed in 1936. The USGA formalized its decision in 1938, followed a year later by the R&A. Why 14 then? No explanation is provided, but the best-selling sets at the time often consisted of 4 woods, 9 irons and a putter.
Another theory is advanced without proof and for good reason: it is the influence of the greatest champion of the time: the retired Bobby Jones. During the 1936 Walker Cup, American legend Bobby Jones was flabbergasted to see some playing with around thirty clubs.
He is moved by his Scottish friend Tony Torrance, several times winner of the event. By comparing their equipment (16 clubs for Jones and 12 for Torrance), very influential with their respective authorities, they would have agreed on an average of 14.