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What Goes Round comes Around!

10th June 2013

What Goes Round comes Around!

Belly Putters 2013 – Schenectady Putters 1904

So what's new? The R & A and the USGA propose to ban belly putters and it's really only a question of whether the Pro game will follow suit. So what's new in the controversy over putters?.

Hark back to 1904 an American, Walter Travis, became the first of his countrymen to win the British Amateur Championship. A first, but In doing so, at the Royal St George's links he used the controversial Schenectady centre-shafted putter.

Famous for being banned by the R & A due to his 1904 victory, the story of the “Schenectady Putter” is, in fact, apocryphal. The putter was banned by the R&A from 1910 through 1952, but was done so only because it was considered a “mallet-headed type” putter, not unlike a centre-shafted croquet mallet, which actually instigated the ruling in 1909.

Walter Travis -top of back swing

Much has been written on the question of putters, the yips and how to cure them, and no doubt will continue to exercise the minds and words of anyone suffering from the ills of putting. It's a terrible thing to watch a man suffering from the affliction.

I remember seeing Nick Faldo in the 1983 Martini International at Wilmslow in a play- off with Jose Maria Canizares, when at the 2nd extra hole Jose yipped a 2ft putt leaving Nick the winner.

Playing in a Pro-am in Tobago I watched John Greenwood the youngest ever Yorkshire Amateur Champion ask Peter Alliss, infamous for his yips on the greens, whether he should mark his ball, which was 5 ft from the hole and at 45 degrees from Peter's putt. To which the great man replied “How the XXXX should I know”

One has seen Bernhard Langer struggle with his putting and with determination overcoming the yips and continue on his winning ways – Even Tom Watson, if he had a chink in his armour it was on the greens. I interviewed him in 2009 when he said that he might have found the Holy Grail, but somehow one knew when faced with getting up and down from behind the 18 th at Turnberry for an historic 6 th victory that the nerves might be the winner.

So through the years men and women have sought to overcome the mind and their nerves by using some pretty strange looking putters, and if the belly putter is banned – how long before some further innovative implement will appear?

So much for putters to help overcome the yips but what about the first American to win our Amateur Championship?

Not a household name in Europe his career is nonetheless remarkable, Walter Travis an Australian by birth only took up golf at the age of 35. Although slight of build, never more than 10 stone in weight, he was a natural striker of the ball with a fantastic short game, and within 2 years was playing in the 1898 US Amateur Championship.

He progressed to the semi finals, where he was roundly beaten by the eventual champion, largely due to his poor putting. So with much practice, determination, and the use of a Schenectady centre-shafted putter he went on to win the Championship in 1900, 1901, and 1903 before travelling to England.

In the 1904 Amateur Championship at Royal St George's he defeated two of England's finest golfers, H.J. Hutchinson and Howard Hilton, before winning the final against Edward Blackwell representing the R&A.

Not afraid of controversy during his lifetime, Travis on his way to victory at Sandwich, first claimed a hole in his first round match when his opponent unaware of a local rule grounded his club on grass in a hazard.

Then in the next round having putted up close to the hole his Scottish opponent James Robb, about to play the like, asked the caddy in a broad Scots accent “To tak it oot” Perhaps confused by the accent the caddy picked up the American's ball. Robb did not claim the hole which was halved before losing the match on the 18th

Walter Traviss with US Amateur Trophy & Haskall ball in 1901

Searching for the answer to all aspects of the game Travis was the first to win a major event using the Haskell rubber-cored golf ball—the 1901 U.S. Amateur.

As reported in the Travis biography, " The Old Man", (Labbance, 2000) Travis had "dabbled with predecessors of the Haskell ball, but kept his involvement under wraps until shortly before the tournament" and he "had developed a feel for this type of ball with practice and was not afraid to debut it at the championship" .

As Labbance reports, "Travis's bold move had not only prompted a change in golf balls but a change in golf as well" . It sounded the death knell for the gutty ball, created the need for inserts in the face of wooden clubs to prevent splitting, and soon led to calls for the lengthening of golf courses due to the longer shots made possible by the Haskell.(Labbance, 2000)

His victory at Sandwich was, despite attempts by such famous Americans as Jerome Travers, Francis Ouimet, and even Bobby Jones, the only win to be claimed by an American, until the great Bobby Jones finally took the title in 1930 beating that great English amateur Roger Wethered 7/6.

The great Bernard Darwin writing in the Times penned “At other courses stewards proclaim “round the greens please” At St Andrews the spectators march right over them horse, foot and artillery” Anyone watching old film of that Championship will confirm this.

After his playing career ended, and you may ask what career? - well try this for a man taking up golf aged 35 and retiring from tournament play at 55. Travis could look back on 20 years during which time he won and quoting from Wikipedia

"This list does not include Travis's countless victories in noted club invitationals or championships, such as his 9 wins in the Garden City Golf Club's Spring Invitational that is now known as the Travis Memorial."

Apart from his playing ability, Walter Travis put his permanent stamp on the game, writing books and articles, one in fact that helped shape the course rating and handicap systems used today. He later became editor of the highly acclaimed The American Golfer, viewed in some circles as the best-ever golf magazine.

Moreover, he proved to be a genius and a visionary when it came to course architecture, ranking with Charles B. Macdonald as one of the most influential men in the early days of golf.

Finally I'm adding a potted history of the man, drawn from Wikipedia. This results from an email from a Canadian friend “What about Travis the first American to win at Sandwich” to a colleague of mine, and one of the founding directors of GolfToday, James Ryeland.

“Travis was born in Maldon, Australia . He arrived in New York City in 1886 as a 23 year old representative of the Australian-based McLean Brothers and Rigg exporters of hardward and construction products. Travis married Anne Bent of Middleton, CT, on January 9, 1890, and later that year, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States.

Shortly after their wedding, Travis and his wife and moved into their new home in Flushing, NY, where they would live until their move to Garden City , on Long Island, in 1900. (Labbance, 2000)

In 1895 or 1896, while traveling in England, Travis learned that his Niantic Club friends of Flushing, NY were intent on creating a new golf club. He was scornful of the idea but, wishing to keep up with his friends, he purchased a set of golf clubs to take with him on his return to the United States. As he said, "I first knelt at the shrine of the Goddess of Golf" in October 1896 on the Oakland links, just three months before his 35th birthday. Within a month of hitting his first golf shot, Travis earned his first trophy by winning the Oakland Golf Club handicap competition. Travis became, in his words, "an infatuated devotee" of the game.

He dedicated himself to the study of instructional books written by Horace Hutchinson, Willie Park, and others. He practiced relentlessly. Within a year, Travis won the Oakland Golf Club championship with a score of 82. (Travis, Golf Illustrated, 1906)

In 1898, Travis entered his first United States Amateur Championship and lost to Findlay S. Douglas in the semi-final match. By this time, he had caught the attention and respect of fellow competitors and, because of his late start in the game, Travis was respectfully referred to as "The Old Man" [1] or "The Grand Old Man". Driven by his intense and compulsive dedication to the game, Travis was soon the country's top amateur golfer. Overall, "Travis competed in 17 consecutive U.S. Amateur Championships from 1898 to 1914, compiling a 45-14 record, earning medalist honors three consecutive years (1900-02), and losing to the eventual champion on five occasions. He competed in six U.S. Opens between 1902 and 1912 and was low amateur five times and tied for third low amateur the other." Travis was the runnerup in the 1902 U.S. Open Championship”

Yet if you ask a golfer who was Walter Travis? I wonder how many have heard the name let alone his quite remarkable history

Stuart Barber

In researching the background for this article on Walter Travis I would wish to acknowledge information and photographs posted on the web sites of
The Walter J Travis Society
The World Golf Hall of Fame - member profiles
Walter Travis - USGA Museum




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