There is simply no knowing whether Ian Woosnam might have won the 130th Open Championship but for the two-shot penalty for carrying a 15th club in his bag. Nowhere else on the Open rota would the error have been committed.
Royal Lytham is the only one to start with a par-three and Woosnam hit a six-iron to six inches for a brilliant opening birdie. But on the second tee, his caddie, Myles Byrne, noticed the spare driver Woosnam had been practising with on the range was still in the bag.
After the round, Byrne was distraught. "It is my fault. The buck stops with me," said the Irishman. Until May, Woosnam's caddie for the last 12 years had been Phil "Wobbly" Morbey, with whom he won the US Masters in 1991.
With Woosnam thinking of cutting down his schedule, the Welshman decided it was time for Wobbly to move on. "We got a little stale," Woosie said. Byrne has been caddieing for him ever since and his employer said he was going to get a "severe bollocking but I'm not going to sack him".
"He's a good lad," Woosnam added. "He just has to watch what he is doing. It is the ultimate sin for a caddie, not counting the clubs. It is one of the things you pay a caddie for, but I suppose I should have checked the clubs. I can't think of anything stupid like this happening to me before."
Woosnam admitted he could not get the incident out of his mind and was three over after four holes. But an eagle at the sixth improved his mood and the situation may have motivated him more, although he never quite got close enough to David Duval to put pressure on the American over the closing holes. "I like a good fight, in all sorts of ways," he said. "It was a battle and I like a battle. The crowd were fantastic.
"I suppose these people have the radios and what happened seemed to get round the course, even by the second green. They felt sorry for me and that helped. It was quite something coming up the 18th hole."
When news of the incident came back to the first tee, where the final group were preparing to tee off, Duval and Bernhard Langer immediately checked their bags. "It's an absolute tragedy that it happened," said Hugh Campbell, the chairman of the Royal and Ancient's championship committee.
"Everybody felt sick about it. It's a rule, like the size of the hole, that evolved for reasons we probably don't understand these days." In the 1930s it was common for players to carry as many as 20 clubs in their bags.
It is thought that the limit was set at 14 clubs as a compromise between Bobby Jones and Tony Torrance, a leading British amateur in the Thirties at a Walker Cup match. Jones had 16 clubs and Torrance 12 so they settled on 14.
The more clubs a player is allowed, the more situations can be covered. For example, it is common for players now to carry four wedges of varying degrees.
While officials often help a player to avoid a rules infraction – a referee reminded Duval to move his marker back to its original spot on the final green, so avoiding the kind of embarrassing incident in 1957 at St Andrews when Bobby Locke did not do so but was allowed to keep the trophy when it came to light later – they do not check the number of clubs on the first tee.
"It is the player's responsibility quite clearly under the Rules of Golf to know how many clubs are in his bag," said Peter Dawson, secretary of the R & A. "All players and caddies accept that. You can find them quite hostile if they are asked. As with any rules breach, when there has been such an incident, everyone is careful about it for some time."Reuse content