'I lost count of how many times I hit it, the final blow sending it over my left shoulder'March 20, 2018 The Scoop
Mark Townsend remembers TC Chen as he celebrates the farewell of the double-hit penalty under the new Rules of Golf
Some of you will have never heard of TC Chen. For some of us of a certain age and of a certain disposition the Taiwanese wonder is the ultimate golfing hero.
He even has a shot named after him.
YE Yang is well known as being the first Asian player to capture a men’s major when he edged out Tiger Woods at the 2009 PGA but it could all have been so different.
Chen was leading the 1985 US Open at Oakland Hills by four shots when he came to the 457-yard 5th hole on Sunday. He missed the green right, his attempted recovery came up short into thick, tangly rough which then led to the shot heard round the world – but for all the wrong reasons.
The then 26-year-old, who had an albatross on day one, watched as his wedge got caught up with the surrounds of the green and then made contact with the ball for a second time in a nanosecond. The ball veered strangely off to the left of its intended target and, with his brain in something of a blur, he understandably three-putted for an eight.
Chen, leading the US Open by four shots, had had a double hit or, as it would become known, ‘a TC Chen’.
Years later he would blame one of the most famous shots in major history on the one that preceded it.
“The real mistake was the third shot. I knew there was only about a five per cent chance of getting up and down from that bad lie, but I still tried to hit a perfect shot. Today, facing the same shot, I would just take a bogey and move on.”
As for the chipping unmentionable – “I could not calm down. I kept asking myself, ‘Why?’”
As from next year Chen wouldn’t have been penalised a shot for the double hit.
Rule 14-4 – ‘If a player’s club strikes the ball more than once in the course of a stroke, the player must count the stroke and add a penalty stroke, making two strokes in all’ – has now been amended.
From 2019 onwards ‘golfers will simply count the one stroke they made to strike the ball’.
Chen finished the 1985 US Open just one stroke behind Andy North, under the new ruling they would have played off.
While many of the new regulations, aside from the stroke-and-distance one, could be put in the box marked ‘common sense’, the double-hit one is a strange one.
To sum up: should you make an unholy mess of a shot, quite possibly due to an affliction and a subsequent jolt of electricity through your arms, brought upon by anxiety and tension, then we’ll kindly overlook what’s just happened. Nothing to see here, move on.
Forget the never-ending pace of play conundrum, this is how to ‘grow the game’ on a large scale. All of a sudden you are opening up the game to the masses – all those double-hitters who gave up the game can now be welcomed back in and those of us who have stayed with it, despite the ongoing battles with the lack of control of our arms, can now breathe a huge sigh of relief.
I have a checkered history of the double hit, a statement which is probably stating the bleeding obvious. The most recent episode came a year ago on the 17th at Lytham when I somehow managed two goes at it with a chipper before, in a very rare display of mettle, rolling in a 20-footer for a bogey. From 2019 that would be a par four.
In 1991 I shot a gross two-over 68 in a Home Internationals day at Wimbledon Park, the nostril-flaring opportunity to represent Wales stirring me to shades of occasional relative brilliance.
My abiding memory of that day though was a double-bogey at the 8th after a delicate greenside recovery from some hard pan resulted in clubhead meeting ball one too many times. A shot that, looking back on that happy-go-lucky, optimistic 20-year-old, might well have began my descent into short-game oblivion.
Fast forward 15 years to Tuscany where I lost count of how many times I hit it from some lush fringe, the final blow sending it over my left shoulder.
My oldest and best golfing friend has followed a similar path from schoolboy wonder to quivering wreck. If anybody could be relied upon to tell a good double-hit story, from an extensive back catalogue of greenside fiascos, it would be him.
And his came, rather neatly, alongside one of the best chippers to ever play the game, Padraig Harrington.
“I told Harrington about my chipping woes. Without letting me finish, he delivered his diagnosis. ‘It’s quite clear to me,’ he said. ‘You’re chronic.’ It was a blunt assessment but one that was nevertheless correct.
“A short while later, Harrington marched out to a small practice green trailed by around 60 people, all of whom were keen to see an Open winner give a short demonstration. After going through the basics he then moved onto the short game. I edged in closer, hoping to absorb something that might help.
“’Now then, where’s Dan?’ he asked suddenly, scanning the faces in the crowd. Spotting me, he called me out and handed me his pitching wedge, the same one he had used to play that remarkable chip at Carnoustie. ‘OK, now come and show everyone how chronic your chipping is.’
“I tried to persuade him what a bad idea this was, but he was oblivious to my pleas. And so it was that I found myself with three balls at my feet, a deep bunker guarding the practice green not 20 yards away, and the gaze of scores of people burning a sweat patch into the back of my shirt.
“I appealed to Harrington one last time before taking his wedge and using it to knife the first ball into the face of the bunker – clack, thud; dunch – the second ball floundered short of the sand; before conjuring a textbook double hit with the third. The unholy trinity.
“People laughed, and like Harrington at Carnoustie, I wanted the ground to swallow me up.”
The last word, however, should go to Chen who, for many of us, started all this and his son Jason. A few years ago Chen was playing on the Champions Tour in the vicinity of Oakland Hills and the pair were planning a pilgrimage to the scene of the crime.
“Growing up I saw videos, news and media. I even went to Wikipedia to search about my dad. You know, find out what’s wrong with that tournament, what went wrong on the last round,” explained Chen Jr.
“Everybody knows about the double hit and I didn’t have the privilege to see it. It’s what makes him more famous and people now know about the double chip. And it would just be great to be there on the 5th hole to see it.”
His dad replied: “I know somebody will ask me about the two‑chip. The two‑chip at that time probably bothered me a lot for a while but not anymore right now. It’s tough to do it.”