Golf’s one-ball rule; ever heard of it? Well, found near the back of the R&A/USGA Rules of Golf is a section titled Conditions of the Competition. The portion dealing with clubs and ball requirements begins: “The following conditions are recommended only for competitions involving expert players.” Key word: only.
What’s more, the game’s rules-makers tell us that conditions should not be confused with the rules, which are the same for all of us. Technically, that might be true, but these conditions read, penalize and sound (quack?) like rules.
One of these conditions is the so-called one-ball rule, which limits a player to one brand–and model–of ball for the round. Its genesis goes back to the late 1970s, when good players, on certain holes and under certain conditions, would switch from a softer-feeling (balata) ball to a rock (surlyn) ball for less spin and extra distance. It allowed them to switch from, say, a 4-wood to a more controllable 4-iron on par 3s and, to switch from, say, a driver to a more dependable 1 or 2-iron on par 4s and par 5s with narrow landing areas. Many leading PGA Tour players argued that this practice was akin to having a “secret weapon” in the bag. In time, PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman agreed and led the charge to stop ball-switching during a round. Though the tour could have made this change on its own, it sought and received the blessing of the U.S. rules-making body, the USGA. The USGA and the R&A were sympathetic to the tour’s point of view, but they did not want to force this limitation on the millions of golfers throughout the world who would find it impractical to carry a sufficient number of “one balls” in their bag to complete a round. But they also didn’t want to see the tour create its own equipment rule. So, common sense prevailed, and a condition of play, the one-ball condition, was written as an optional requirement for elite-play tournaments.
So, where am I going with this rules/conditions chatter? For the most part, it’s my preamble to informing you about the highlight of my college golf career and the wonderful lesson that I received from World Golf Hall of Fame member Raymond Floyd. It all happened in the days when I was on the golf team at Florida International University. Ray told me about the clear-cut advantage of using my trusty 1 or 2-iron and a top-flite (a two-piece ball with a solid core) especially during windy conditions or when playing a particularly narrow hole. As it happened, this great piece of advice helped me to win the well-regarded University of Miami Invitational in 1974 when I came from several shots behind during the final round. The 72-hole event was held in March at Biltmore Golf Course and the old Le Jeune Golf Course (now Melreese). And, on a particularly blustery day, with nerves being frayed and the wind switching around quite a bit, my final-round score of 69 was low by five strokes.