The Hacker || Peter Corrigan
Six decades have passed since the stymie was eliminated from golf and it is about time it was brought back, if only as an opportunity for hackers to cause grief to opponents in ‘friendly’ matchplay encounters.
The stymie dates from the dim and distant origins of the game, and can be compared to a snooker in that it prevents your opponent from getting a clear view of the target.
If you were both on the green and your ball was between his ball and the hole, there was no question of your marking it. He was stymied, and the ball stayed where it was. He had to aim his putt either side or chip over it.
Stymie is an old Scottish word for a partially blind person, which indeed is what a stymied player was, and the word has passed into general use to describe someone who is thwarted. Off-hand, I can’t think of any other golfing terms that have entered everyday usage.
Some think the expression ‘below par’ comes from golf, but it describes someone who isn’t feeling well. If you are ‘below par’ in golf you feel bloody marvellous.
But back to the stymie, which could easily occur accidentally but, since most golfers are blaggards when it comes to taking full advantage of the rules, would frequently be deliberate. Originally, it was considered unsporting to ‘stymie’ on purpose but the 20th century it was a commonplace practice and in a game obsessed with being ‘for the gentleman’, its demise was inevitable.
Even Bobby Jones, epitome of all that is wholesome about the game, was not averse to stymieing rivals when the occasion called for it. A Golf Illustrated report in 1926 reads: ‘Bobby squared the match by laying Von Elm a stymie for the second time. This was no partial one, and George had to try and jump it and failed.’
Indeed, Jones was a great fan of the tactic and after the game’s two governing bodies, the Royal & Ancient and the United States Golf Association, decided in 1952 that their sport could do without this particular type of skulduggery, and declared it no longer lawful, Jones was not impressed.
In 1961, Jones penned an article which was headlined ‘The Stymie – Let’s Have it Back’ and in which he argued that here was a tradition which added an extra dimension to matchplay. He referenced the 1930 Amateur Championship in which he stymied Cyril Trolley on the first play-off hole, allowing him to advance on his way to his legendary ‘Grand Slam’.
The modern game would certainly have been more interesting had it stayed. And there’s no reason hackers at their local clubs can’t reinstate the rule. The much-respected American writer David Owen revealed a few years ago that he plays in a society, the Sunday Morning Group, which keeps the stymie alive – sort of.
The old rule applies, but to ball-markers instead of balls. It apparently causes no end of uproar as balls jump off line after hitting poker chips or other mischievous objects employed as markers. Hackers love to see their superior opponents receiving bad breaks and the notion that they, themselves, could somehow effect the mayhem is too delicious to contemplate. Jones was right – bring back the stymie!