- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 2, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION

Golf, in case you hadn’t noticed, is “flog” spelled backward. It’s supposed to be hard. But there’s a group of guys in California who think it’s too hard — and are worried that it’s scaring off too many players, duffers who might stick with the sport if it weren’t such a constant source of humiliation.

So they’ve invented a game called Flogton - which, in case you hadn’t noticed, is “not golf” spelled backward. No, it’s not golf, it just resembles golf, kind of the way T-Ball resembles baseball. It takes the rule book, gives it a sound thrashing with a utility club and turns “a good walk spoiled” into an activity that’s far more hacker-friendly.

In Flogton, for instance, you get one mulligan on every hole — and it can be any shot. You’re also allowed to move your ball six feet before hitting it, as long as you don’t place it any closer to the hole. (This, happy day, might get you out of the rough, a bunker or away from an obstructing Port-O-Let.) If you’re a particularly short knocker — or have a particularly long shot to the green - you can even use a tee in the fairway. And get this: The third putt is always good.


(I can’t think about that last rule without a certain amount of sadness. I mean, if Seve Ballesteros had been playing Flogton instead of flailing away in the Masters, reporters never would have been able to ask him, once upon a time, how he had four-putted — and he never would have been able to reply: “I miss, I miss, I miss, I make.”)

The aforementioned “guys in California,” by the way, the brains behind this venture, aren’t just any guys. Scott McNealy, the commissioner of Project Flogton (aka the Alternative Golf Association), is the founder of Sun Microsystems, and Pat Gallagher, the chief executive officer, worked for the San Francisco Giants for many years on the business side. Then there’s Bob Zider, who’s listed as a “founder” on the website (www.flogton.com). He has a company that manufactures clubs —  nonconforming by USGA standards — that try to take the bogey out of the game.

The key to lower scores, in other words, isn’t necessarily a bunch of wallet-whacking lessons with the club pro. Looser rules and improved technology — equipment (balls included) that eliminates slices, hooks and all that other stuff that makes you break your club over your knee — can help just as much, if not more.

Flogton isn’t anything-goes golf, but it comes close. It’s perfectly permissible, for example, to apply cooking spray to your clubface — thereby taking much of the spin out of your shot and keeping it from communing with nature. (This could create an awkward situation, though. Say you had a tee time at Augusta National, that bastion of masculinity, and you were stopped at the gate. The guard might say, “We’re OK with you playing Flogton here, but you can’t bring Pam in with you.”)

You have to admit, McNealy and Co. have taken much of the pain and suffering out of the game. Heck, if you’re a you’re a really bad player — hide-the-women-and-children bad — you can play Flogton Max, which allows you to remove your ball from any bunker or red- or yellow-staked hazard without penalty (again, provided it’s placed no closer to the hole). Also, any putt “within the leather” of the putter’s grip is considered a done deal. That’s right, Flogton Max is 100 percent yip-free. (And if you tee it up in the fairway — course superintendents and gophers take note — it could be almost 100 percent divot-free, too.)

Flogton’s creators seem determined to make it the most positive sports experience around. It’s in this spirit that I offer the following suggestions, designed to make the game even more of a hoot than it already is:

• Do away with the first and last holes, the two closest to the clubhouse. These are the hardest for many golfers because they worry about hitting a dribbler in front the Biggest Blabbermouth in the Office. So why not start on No. 2 and end on 17? (As a bonus, players will shoot much lower scores because they’ll be playing only 16 holes.)

• Adopt a designated hitter rule. This would enable a player, once on each nine, to have a substitute hit a shot for him. One possibility: his caddy (who might also be the captain of the high school golf team).

• If your tee ball lands in an adjoining fairway, you have the option of playing that hole — and counting it on your scorecard as the hole you were supposed to play.

• There’s no such thing as out of bounds. If your ball lands in somebody’s backyard, you simply take a drop in the rough at the edge of the fairway, nearest to where the ball left the property. Penalty: one stroke (instead of the more severe stroke-and-distance).

(Oh, wait, scratch that last rule. Flogton already has it.)

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