I’m a bit annoyed – well, much more than annoyed but I’m trying hard to moderate my language and reduce the number of swear words used per sentence, especially in the blog. There’s a tournament this week at The Belfry, not too far down the road from here and it’s really frustrating not to be able to go – we’re not out of the COVID woods yet, so golf in this neck of the woods is still off limits to spectators.
The Betfred British Masters hosted by Danny Willett, in support of Prostate Cancer UK, which started on Wednesday, is one of those events that would be worth watching. Willett, the Masters champion from Sheffield, is playing; Martin Kaymer, the US PGA and Open champion from Dusseldorf, who has lost his way, was there for 36 holes; and the talented young Scots Calum Hill and Robert MacIntyre are sharing the halfway lead with Englishman Richard Bland, who is 48 years old, playing in his 478th European Tour event and eyeing up the over-50s tour.
“It would mean everything [to win], especially at my age,” Bland said. “The chances are probably going to come fewer and farther between – that’s not being negative, that’s just being pretty realistic. I’m going to try and go out there and not think about it too much. The old cliche, just one shot at a time as best I can.”
The Brabazon course, scene of four compelling Ryder Cups, is still proving a proper test for some of the best, even in these days of smash and gouge. The three leaders are only 7 under par so far and Bland was understandably delighted to have played two days without a bogey. “That’s extra special,” he said. “It doesn’t happen very often, especially round here where there are four or five holes that can really catch you out.
“You really have to stand up and hit a proper golf shot even just to make par, so I’m really happy with the way I’ve played. I think I’ve only missed four fairways in two rounds and they were not by a lot, so my greens in regulation stats are pretty high as well.”
Good to see that a place that started out as a load of old potato fields and was probably too immature a course to deserve its first Ryder Cup or two has matured beautifully and proved a proper test of nerve and shot-making. It’s a great venue and is full of memories – such laughs with Helen and Colm Smith, who always stayed with us; having an open house for our AGW colleagues, friends and neighbours – there were some memorable encounters and robust exchanges of views; the brother-in-law with me shaking the St Giles Hospice collecting tins on the temporary bridge connecting the car parks with the course (not sure we were quite legal but we did well); great times.
The Sky guys were reminiscing about it all and reminding Ken Brown, who was out on the course, of some of his finest moments. Ken had a slightly dodgy start to his Ryder Cup career but he won two out of four points, including his singles against the formidable Raymond Floyd, in the near-miss at PGA National in Florida in 1983. That’s when the incomparable Seve told his downcast teammates that they’d as good as won (it was 14 1/2 – 13 1/2 to the USA and Jack Nicklaus, the US captain, kissed the turf in relief).
“Next time, we beat them,” Seve said, only beat started with an F and ended with a K, with two asterisks in between….
He was right. Back at the Belfry in 1985 it was Europe 16 1/2 – USA 11 1/2 and in the foursomes on the second afternoon, Ken and Bernhard Langer beat Ray Floyd and Lanny Wadkins, two of the toughest, most dogged competitors ever, by 3 and 2.It’s ten years since Seve died, far, far too young but he was a force of nature and none of us who met him and knew him will ever forget him. Dave’s book is a wonderful tribute and brings to life Seve’s charisma, charm and sheer brilliance. He wasn’t perfect, on or off the course but….
There are lots of Walker Cuppers who go on to become Ryder Cuppers and no doubt there’ll be a few of this year’s stars at Seminole who train on to even greater things as professionals. I wanted Maureen to get us a game there with Gerry McIlroy, Rory’s father, who’s a member but it didn’t take too long looking at those fearsome greens and bunkers to disabuse us both of that notion. We’re old enough and wise enough to know when we’re beaten….
It’s a bit harsh to call GB and I’s valiant effort a BBU (brave but unavailing) because both teams did wonderfully well to play such good golf in difficult circumstances – following the pandemic protocols, then having to cope with a nasty gastrointestinal bug that floored almost everyone, then taking on Seminole in a weakened state (the players not the course)…..They were all heroes.
There’s usually nothing remotely heroic about my golf but on Tuesday we were a couple of holes from home when the heavens opened and there was thunder, lightning, hail and torrential rain. Aaaaagh. What to do? What exactly is the correct procedure? Do we leave the clubs and dive in to the nearest bunker? Or just trundle in to the clubhouse with all our gear? After all, most brollies are fibreglass now, aren’t they?
As it happened, we were not far from the greenkeepers’ shed (bigger and posher, so perhaps just a structure), so we legged it to shelter and waited until the weather had calmed down a bit. Two of us had half decent scores so we finished out on the 17th and played the last with the rain tipping down…….Madness.