Stroke, Hole or Match
Stroke, hole or match are the three penalties assessed at Match Play under the Rules of Golf . A simple infraction is a stroke penalty. A more serious infraction is loss of hole and a really serious infraction is loss of match. For example, (paraphrasing Rule 6-3) if a player is late for his starting time by more than five minutes, he is disqualified. The penalty for disqualification is loss of match.
On June 18 and 19, 1926, shortly after the Ryder Cup Match at Wentworth, Golf Illustrated magazine sponsored a 72-hole match between Hagen and Mitchell, with £500 awarded to the winner, the biggest prize ever offered in England. The venue was 36-holes at Wentworth the first day, and 36-holes at St. Georges Hill the second day. It was show business, pitting the world's two best professional golfers at match play for a record amount of money. At the end of the first day, Abe led by a comfortable (and boring) margin of 4 holes.
But the second day was a grabber, in spite of, or because of, the fact that Hagen was late on the tee by 25 minutes, an extraordinary delay even for him. When he came into sight, officials reminded him that his match was in progress, but there was little else they could do. In those days there was no rule about starting times, and Walter knew the Rules better than anyone, it was said. (Bobby Jones reportedly sent Hagen a note the night before an exhibition match between them, saying that if he, Hagen, was not on the tee five minutes before the starting time, he, Jones, intended to get into his car and go. Jones, an amateur, could do that, because he had no monetary obligation to do otherwise.)
Abe lost four of the first six holes at St. George's Hill to bring the match all-square. Walter took the lead at the tenth. But Abe squared the match again in the afternoon at the 15th, the only hole he took all day. Bernard Darwin wrote, "I've just once seen Hagen look unhappy, and I may have been reading something into his face that I may have suffered myself in his case. When the day had looked as good as won, suddenly he'd made mistakes and Abe squared the match with three holes to play. It must have been a horrid moment for him, but he trampled that momentary weakness underfoot, for he won the next two holes and won the match."
Hagen would have done better to lose, if we are to believe the bitter words in the newspapers. It didn't help Abe that crowds came in droves at the end, a condition known to throw him off his game. The best golfers in the world were there, including America's amateurs, who were in England for the Walker Cup, British Amateur Championship (won by Bobby Jones the week before) and the Open (won by Bobby Jones the week after).
In his autobiography, The Walter Hagen Story, Hagen blamed his tardiness on this occasion specifically to his oft-repeated philosophy of life: "I never hurried, there was no use worrying--and I always took time to smell the flowers along the way."
In boldface type a London paper declared,
"According to the unwritten law of golf, Hagen should have been disqualified."
My son the rock scientist believes that Hagen's behavior was unsportsmanlike and damaging to professionals golfers. Samuel Ryder saw it as an opportunity to rectify an old notion held by the English and American public, that professionals were never quite the sportsmen that amateurs were. Mitchell, first as an amateur and then as a professional, was invariably perceived as a sportsman and gentleman. The gold, emblematic figure is small reminder to professional golfers that golf is more than a game.