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.