Mo’s instructions were terse and to the point: “One subject only, Rory and the boys in Abu Dhabi, looking ahead to the Ryder Cup and no whittering on about people no one’s ever heard of. And NO photographs of frozen bunkers.”
Well, that’s me told and just when I thought I was getting to grips with winter photography, in my own small, phone-y way. No chance of suffering from delusions of competence, let alone grandeur in this parish.
Still, being hunkered down in Staffordshire in the depths of winter, it is lovely to see Rory (surely no one needs the surname McIlroy until all the youngsters named after the Holywood star start hitting the major-winning trail?) back in action and apparently fit – the slight thickening of some wall in his heart notwithstanding. He started with a 69, three under par, in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA (Emirates Global Aluminium), only three shots behind the joint leaders Hideto Tanihara, of Japan and Tommy Fleetwood, Europe’s No 1, the defending champion, of Southport.I know people who can’t stand Rory – they’ve never met him but there’s something about his bounce that irritates them, just the way one of my cousins loathes the sainted Roger Federer and my father and uncle excoriated the inimitable Harry Carpenter every time he appeared on the television screen, did that little rabbit thing with his mouth and then expertly and seamlessly introduced whatever sporting occasion it was. Dad and Dick did not care that Harry was the consummate professional, they didn’t want to know that he was kind, generous, industrious, charitable and that no one else had a bad word to say about him; they just wanted to jeer and sneer every time he appeared. If they’d met him, they’d have been courtesy personified but they didn’t want to meet him, they didn’t want to understand him, they wanted to indulge their anti-Harry prejudice to their (mostly good) heart’s content.
I don’t know Rory well, though Maureen does but he’s one of my favourites and I’d love him to win the Masters this year, to complete the career grand slam. He’s more than capable of winning at Augusta, even though other courses may suit him better but he may never win the green jacket he so craves. It won’t make him a bad golfer or a bad person but it’ll always be a gap in his resume and the longer he goes without winning in Georgia in April, the more it’ll become a gaping hole no matter how many other majors and victories he racks up.
At the moment, I doubt he’d swap his career for Danny Willett’s Masters title. With luck Willett will train on but he’s struggled since his moment of glory at Augusta. This is an important year for the Yorkshireman but being a one-hit wonder must surely be better than being no wonder at all. The trouble is that when you start to struggle, hordes of bright young things, as yet untroubled by life and doubts, start to stream past, dreaming of majors and Ryder Cup glory.
Thomas Bjorn, who once threw away the Open at Royal St George’s but enjoyed an excellent, extended career, is facing one of his biggest challenges as Europe’s captain in the Ryder Cup match against the Americans in Paris this September. The USA, triumphant at Hazeltine last time out, are full of confidence given the high standing of Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed and their cohorts but it’s never easy to win away from home, even in these global golfing times.The Europeans will have taken a lot of confidence from their victory in the EurAsia Cup in Kuala Lumpur last week but they’ll know that it wasn’t all that easy. The score, 14-10, sounds conclusive enough and the Euros dominated their Asian counterparts in the singles but the visitors were behind after the foursomes and fourballs and it’ll be interesting to see how many of the team will be playing in Paris. Ireland’s Paul Dunne, who didn’t win a point, indicated that he was a real team man when he said he’d rather lose all his matches and be on the winning side than win all his matches and lose the trophy – and he meant it. Don’t rule him out of the Ryder Cup team but it’ll be tough to get in, with the likes of McIlroy, Justin Rose and Jon Rahm, who weren’t playing in Malaysia, pretty well certain to make it.
Vive la France. Allez les oles!
Not all bloggers are writers and not all writers are bloggers. Patricia is a writer AND a blogger. I’m just a blogger, but as I sit before an empty screen wondering what to say in my first post of 2018 I’m curious to feel a….well, a bit of a block. WRITER’s block, I wonder? Hmm, maybe I’m getting a bit closer to being a real writer after 18 months of blogging, seeing as I’m now experiencing a block? “Just start writing and see where it takes you”, Patricia advised. So, here goes.
When, oh when is Dustin Johnson (not the only culprit) going to stop spitting on a golf course? I find it nothing short of disgusting and watched his sublime performance in Hawaii last week with one hand over my eyes in expectation of the inevitable expectoration. It’s a dozen years now since I first started working in the States and I’ve covered countless rounds in that time and walked many miles inside the ropes. Those miles have been punctuated with several hops and skips as I’ve done my best to avoid the spitting over the ropes from the front row of spectators. My American friends tell me it’s the tobacco-chewing culture but that doesn’t appease me – it really is awful.
Dustin is the supreme athlete and shot 65 on Sunday romping to an 8-shot victory in a tournament peopled only by winners from 2017. He has won at least once a year for the last 11 consecutive years and has 8 wins since the 2015-16 season – more than any other player on the PGA Tour. Last year he was in full flow until the eve of the Masters when he slipped in his socks and fell, injuring his back. He withdrew the next day and was woeful in the majors, with a missed cut at the US Open, tied 54th at The Open and tied 13th at the PGA. Despite bombing out in the most important tournaments on the schedule he still managed to finish the year as world No 1. Now, THAT was some achievement.Three players are teeing it up this year with only one major separating them from the prize of completing a CGS (career grand slam). To date, only five men have won all four modern majors: Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods. Rory McIlroy will be the first to feel the full glare of the major spotlight as he tackles Augusta in April in search of a green jacket, the only garment separating him from membership of that oh-so-special club. Hampered by injury last year he will be a man on a mission and being majorless since the 2014 Open does not sit well with him. We haven’t seen the best of Rory yet and I predict he will bag one of the big ones in 2018 – I’m just not sure which one, and maybe the CGS will have to wait a year or two.
Next up, attempting to complete his set of majors at the US Open will be Phil Mickelson and I can’t help but wonder if that ship hasn’t already sailed. Phil has six runner-up finishes in his national Open and would dearly love to win that particular title but time is not on his side as he turns 48 on the Saturday of this year’s championship. Only one man older has ever won a major and that was Julius Boros who won the 1968 PGA Championship at the age of 48 years, 4 months and 18 days. Phil needs a miracle.
The final major of the year (and the final year it is the final major because of a change of date beginning in 2019) is the PGA, the only major missing from Jordan Spieth’s resume. To use one of Jordan’s expressions, this is “very do-able”. And you would have to think he’s right. In 2019 the Open Championship in July becomes the final major of the year. Not for Jordan an agonising 8-month long wait from the last major to the one major eluding him, a fate that Rory has endured for the last three years. The PGA comes in a run of top tournaments and majors and you can find yourself competing in it almost before you realise it. If Rory has failed to win the Masters by 2019 he will then have nine long months from July to April until the next major, the Masters, when the focus will assuredly swing his way again as he takes his next crack at that CGS. That’s a rolling boil of pressure which will build exponentially until he manages it. I do think, though, that both Rory and Jordan will, at some stage, join the famous five – just not this year.
As I said, I do have Rory down for a major win in 2018. I have Dustin down for two and I have a feeling Rickie Fowler will break his duck. But don’t take my word for it – only fools make predictions on golf and, as you know, just about anything can happen. Why, DJ might even stop spitting!
Happy New Year everybody. Here’s hoping that we continue to enjoy our golf in 2018, playing well enough and often enough and persuading more people to become golf tragics – after all, it hasn’t really done us any harm, has it?! Oops, that’s one semi-resolution broken – cut out the exclamation marks.
I see that golf has come top of the list of dullest sports – or bottom of the list of most exciting sports to watch – in a survey conducted by YouGov. That’s fair enough. The top five were athletics (drug-enhanced or otherwise), tennis, football, gymnastics (unwatchable since I read Joan Ryan’s brilliant and brutal “Little Girls in Pretty Boxes”) and rugby union, all full of movement and as a general rule, fast and furious.
Golf is, by its nature, more sedate but the team events, especially the Ryder and Solheim Cups, are compelling viewing every time. It’ll be interesting to see if this week’s EurAsia Cup (presented by DRB-HOCOM), which starts today in Kuala Lumpur, at Glenmarie Golf and Country Club, sparks similar excitement. Thomas Bjorn, Europe’s Ryder Cup captain for next year’s match in Paris, is in charge of a handy side that takes on Asia’s best, captained by Arjun Atwal, who’s been picking the brains of Tiger Woods re team dynamics, pairings, personalities, that sort of thing. Atwal for one is taking it seriously.Some people still think that golf is one of those things you take up when you retire and that’s not a bad thing to do but it’s even better when you take it up at the other end of the age scale. You may become very good and make loads of dosh before you’re 30 or sink without trace but best of all, whatever level you reach, you have a game that you can play for as long as you are able and the friends you make will be friends for life. There’s nothing dull about that.
I tried not to be too dull when I spoke at Formby Ladies GC’s annual dinner on Tuesday (thanks to them for the flowers at the top of the post) but I did realise how old I was and what a sports tragic I was when I mentioned Babe Zaharias and was met by a lot of very blank, baffled looks. Most of the audience had never heard of her. All-American can-do-anything sportswoman of the 1930s and 1940s, a multiple Olympic champion who turned to golf with great success and was an international name in the days before Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the rest made it easy to have a global profile. I lost confidence that Bobby Jones and Joyce Wethered would be familiar names, suddenly remembering that I’d mentioned Nancy Lopez to someone a few weeks before and they had never heard of her. Blimey. So even legends don’t last forever.
Talking of legends, I was sorry to hear that the inimitable Mike Britten, a long-time member of the AGW, had died. He was a big part of my time in golf and I learned a lot from him, Gordon Richardson and Mark Garrod, all consummate reporters who knew exactly what was going on.
Small and combative, little Mickey could be very protective of his patch and at one tournament, one of the small ones we used to go to in the good old days before wall to wall television coverage, I wandered down to the 18th green where he was waiting, on his own, for David Feherty, who was having a very ordinary round.
Mickey was doing some of the Irish papers and was horrified to see me, a natural blabbermouth who couldn’t be relied upon not to reveal all to his rivals. I was working for The Times, so our needs were not always the same. “What you doing here?” he barked.
In truth, there was nothing much going on, so I thought I’d catch up with Feherty, whom I hadn’t seen for a while and could always be relied on for a bit of craic.
“I’ve come to learn at the feet of the master,” I deadpanned.
Mickey looked at me suspiciously, not quite sure how to take this, then said, a touch imperiously, “OK, you can stay – but not a word to Dabell.” Norman [Dabell] also had his Irish clients, so the rivalry was real.
As it turned out Feherty had a great tale to tell, so both Mickey and I were happy.
We had a lot of fun over the years and my condolences and best wishes go to his family.
I had a root through some of my mountain of happy snaps looking for a pic of Mickey in his shorts – he was very proud of his legs and he did have a shapely pair of pins (am I allowed to say that these days?) – but came up short, so am using this lovely photo of him and his daughter Jenny celebrating his 80th birthday last year. He loved Spain and ended his days in Andalucia, at La Heredia, his lovely place in Estepona.
It’s probably safe to say that the last time Mickey played winter golf was many years ago but it can be great fun if you get the number of layers right and the company is congenial. On Monday, I played for Whittington at Brocton in something called the Trio League, featuring our two clubs and Ingestre. Like most of Staffordshire Brocton was frozen but, well wrapped up, we played 11 holes and survived to tell the tale. The bounces were unpredictable and we should have declared the bunkers GUR before setting out but it was good fun as well as providing more than the recommended daily allowance of air and exercise.
It might have been cold but it was far from dull.