This month football takes centre stage. For any England fan born after the summer of ’66, international football is synonymous with the agony and despair of a penalty shoot-out. Surely there is a better way to end a sporting contest?
Imagine England get through to the final and face Germany. They nick a goal just before half time but like in 1966 England cannot hold out and succumb to a last minute equaliser. So we head for extra time, no more goals and find ourselves at penalties again. Here we turn to golf and see if it can produce a more satisfying end. It can’t. In fact examination shows that golf has invented the worst ever way to decide a tournament: Count-back.
Under count-back the World Cup Final would be decided by who won the second half. The first half is disregarded and the German skipper would be holding Gazzaniga’s gold statue.
This is a pitiful way to decide a winner. Why is the second half more important than the first? And yet we golfers follow this system week in week out to decide the outcome of silverware. Frankly it is ridiculous, a silly system no better than tossing a coin. But what could replace it?
Let’s start by looking at the wonderful handicap system. In what other sphere of life can players compete for a single prize regardless of their level of ability. However step back a few paces and cracks start to appear. Imagine a 400 metres race operated under a handicap system where runners get extra seconds depending on ability.
Two runners set off. One is 17-years-old and the other is 90. The younger runner blasts a time of 46 seconds and runs off scratch. The older runner shuffles round in an extra minute but runs off a handicap of 61 seconds and thus wins the gold medal by a second. Hmmm. Viewed like this the handicap system looks silly.
Nevertheless assuming the golfing world has faith in the handicap system then they are happy to accept the 90-year-old runner as worthy winner. But what if they had tied after allowing for handicap? Do we really award it to who ran quicker, after handicap, over the last 200m?
The aim is to run the whole race in the quickest time possible. Whilst the handicap has allowed them to compete, common sense dictates that in the event of a tie the fastest must prevail.
So in golf, whenever there is a tie, the player who shot the best gross score should win, or in the event of a stableford, the player with the lower handicap to achieve their points total. Which is why a penalty shoot-out is a good and fair way to end a football match. At least it is decided by the skill of kicking a football rather than some formula of fortune.