This week I was going to write about the new rules, which will be introduced in January 2019 and the new handicapping system, due to come into operation in 2020 but things have been a bit fraught in this household this week and rules and handicapping have never been my forte, requiring as they do a level of concentration and forensic attention to detail that stretch my capabilities beyond their meagre limits.
Like a lot of games golf is intrinsically simple: you tee the ball up, then pursue it across country and hit it (without teeing it up again) until it disappears into the hole, whereupon you add up how many times you hit the ball (or tried to hit it) and that’s your total for the hole. Then you do the same again, and again, for 18 holes. Some people might ask why? What’s the point of all that? But if you get the point, if it appeals, that’s you, hooked – not always a golfing outcome to be wished for – and on your way to being sucked into the maelstrom of handicaps, rules and even, heaven help us, dress codes.
There’s also lots of fun, competition and banter with friends, being out in the fresh air and able to play a game that has universal appeal and an injury toll that may involve backs, knees, wrists, elbows and shoulders but is unlikely to include concussion – unless you’re unlucky enough to be hit by a ball or a club.
Michelle Wie and Tiger Woods, two of the most hyped golfers in history, one of whom has more than lived up to his billing, are flying high at the moment, revelling in being fit and fighting again after myriad injury woes. What’s wonderful to see is the joy they have in competing and performing at the highest level, revelling in showing off their talent for a game that has held them in its thrall since they were kids.
Love of the game, whatever it is, is the key to success because, let’s face it, sport will break your heart if you let it; to keep coming back, time after time, defeat after defeat, injury after injury, you have to love it. However good you are, however many trophies you’ve won, however many leagues you are ahead of your opponent, the moment you think that all you have to do to win is to turn up, you’re toast.
Ireland won’t be thinking like that at Twickenham tomorrow, when all they have to do to win the Grand Slam (and Triple Crown) is beat England on their home turf, a wounded England at that, hitting the buffers for the first time under Eddie Jones, the bullish Australian and staring down the barrel of three consecutive defeats. Ireland don’t have a great record at Twickers – few visiting teams do – but gone are the days when Ulsterman Cecil Pedlow, a ridiculously talented all-round sportsman, could turn to Tony O’Reilly, of Heinz fame, as they were lacing up their boots before running out onto the pitch and say, “You realise O’Reilly, this is the 13th consecutive defeat we’ve shared together.”
That’s one of my favourite sporting stories – anathema in today’s professional era of positive thinking – and, no, I haven’t trawled through the record books to check that it’s accurate but it probably is. It was a wee bit before my rugby conscious time, though I was at Ravenhill when Ulster drew 5-all with the All Blacks in January 1954. Well, Mum was there and I arrived in June and she thought that that experience and her dreaming that they’d christened me Wembley Stadium accounted for my being such a sports nut!
Ireland are probably better than England at the moment but they’ll only win tomorrow if they turn up and give short shrift to the weight of history (and home advantage). They can’t ignore the fact that they’ve only won the Grand Slam, that magical, elusive beast, twice: in 1948 and then in 2009, in Cardiff. Maureen and I were there and Wales had a kick to win the match in the last minute but, right on target, it fell short and those of us in green went gratefully doolally.
Just because it’s St Patrick’s Day doesn’t mean Ireland are destined to win and there’ll be no disgrace in playing their best and losing but there’s nothing more gutting than a BBU (brave but unavailing), especially one that the players will remember years from now as the Slam that might have been. Might as well win then. It’s much more fun!
Finally, on a joyous note, congratulations to Angela and Sergio on the arrival of Azalea Adele Garcia, who puts sport in its proper perspective.