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SPIKE MARK RULE NEEDS TO BE CHANGED

SHARE SPIKE MARK RULE NEEDS TO BE CHANGED

It's time to fix what just might be the dumbest rule in all of golf.

Going by the book, that would be 16-1c, which says golfers cannot tap down spike marks on the green anywhere near the hole until they've putted out. Pros curse it, amateurs ignore it, and greenskeepers already spend too many wide-eyed nights sweating a problem that, like the weather, they can't control.We make people clean up after their dogs, so why not make golfers clean up after themselves?

That question has been very much on the minds of the world's best as they tackle splendidly conditioned Southern Hills Country Club layout in this weekend's PGA Championship. Despite course superintendent Bob Randquist's best-laid plans, the problem of spike marks has reared its ugly head (heads?) larger than at any time in recent memory.

The combination of humid weather, Southern Hills' pennslinks bentgrass greens, and the constant mowing and watering needed to keep them speedy have caused players to kick up spike marks large enough to lose small children in.

Tom Addis, a PGA vice president who oversees the rules committee at this event, says the golfers should solve the problem themselves. "Our rules state very clearly when players complete a hole, they should tap down spike marks, make sure bunkers are raked, and so on. They have responsibility for the course.

"But the grooming should go on," he added, "only after they complete the hole."

Having the golfers look out for one another is great in theory. This is what it looks like in practice.

During his opening round, Ian Woosnam nearly threw a wrench after his par putt on the 13th green hit one spike mark and careened left, then hit another and veered outside the right edge of the hole. All this during a journey of four feet.

"The worst spike marks I've ever seen left by a professional golfer in my life," Woosnam fumed in the interview room afterward, despite shooting 68. "Even the guys I played with said it was disgraceful.

"So whoever left them was . . ." the temperamental Woosnam paused, thinking better of what he was about to say next. "And I ended up having to putt right behind him."

Ground-level camera shots have given viewers at home some sense of the mine fields the golfers - especially those playing late in the afternoons - have had to pick their way through. But only a sense. In person, it's worse. Much, much worse.

"It's terrible," Bernhard Langer said. "The two-foot putts, the ones that would definitely be gimmes, the ones that could determine the championship, are much, much harder. It's very unfair."

But anyone who thinks the complaining is limited to fussy golfers like Langer should have seen Ben Crenshaw on the 14th green Saturday.

After missing a 6-footer there for par because of the scarred surface, Crenshaw, who is nicknamed "Gentle Ben" for his temperament, briefly considered ripping up the green. Instead, after putting out as the rules require, he went back and with a grandly exaggerated gesture, tapped down the offending bits of earth.

"It was a big spike mark. I didn't know how to negotiate it," Crewshaw said. "I almost chipped it."

Tom Watson has no doubt the majority of pros would like to do what Crenshaw did - before they have to putt. Currently, 16-1c allows golfers to repair ball marks on the same greens, but fixing a spike mark carries a two-stroke penalty.

"We all understand the reasoning behind the rule is not to be able to take advantage of the situation," he said. "You don't want a guy going down the line of the putt and carving out a trough to the hole."

Langer advocated having a tournament official alongside each green with a roller. He proposed the official roll flat a 10-foot radius around the hole before each group hit onto the green.

"If we let everybody do it himself, there will definitely be a slowdown," said Langer, already one of the slowest pros out here.

Watson would rather Rule 16-1c be changed to allow golfers to tap down spike marks anywhere on the green at any time - which is pretty much the way everyone who doesn't make a living at the game conducts their weekend matches.

Asked whether this wouldn't create a whole new area of players policing one another, Watson wasn't the slightest bit worried. After all, golfers are still the most sportsmanlike of our big-money athletes. Besides, he added, enforcement wouldn't be all that tough.

"If you see a problem you just go up to the guy, take out your sand wedge like this," Watson said, lifting his arm over his head, "and tell him `I didn't like that."