Apologies but there might be a bit too much golf in this blog for some readers. The members of the AGW (Association of Golf Writers) have been recalling their favourite golfing moments or how they started in the golf business, the sort of nostalgia that fills the void left by a lack of golfing action. Mo insisted that I share my memory with you all.
Everyone’s stories brought back so many happy memories, not least of friends and colleagues no longer with us. It’s great how the moments of despair and blind panic fade and the laughs remain.
One colleague recalled spending a happy evening with Tiger, joshing around and ending up in a headlock but my tale is more straightforward – though Mo and I did find ourselves in the room next to Tiger at the Memorial one year and failed to wonder why he was loaded down with so many takeaway bags; we were barking up the wrong appetite, I suppose.
Anyway, this is about my most memorable tournament and there were a lot of contenders. GB and I’s stunning Curtis Cup victory in 1986 at Prairie Dunes (play there if you can but not in 100 degrees); Laura Davies winning the US Women’s Open in 1987; Liselotte Neumann winning that title the following year; Europe’s unforgettable, unexpected hammering of the Americans in the Solheim Cup at Dalmahoy in 1992 (Tony Jacklin followed the action on Ceefax because no one thought it would be worth televising such a one-sided encounter); any number of other Solheims, Opens, Masters and Ryder Cups – particularly Valderrama where Europe won because of (and in spite of) the intensity and passion of a peripatetic captain Seve and the K Club, awash with tears for Heather Clarke and rain, rain, rain. I put my waterproofs on in the morning and took them off when we got home at night – Dai and I stayed with Helen and Colm Smith which made it all the more special; I still miss them all.
Annika’s 59 at Moon Valley in Phoenix, Arizona, was another contender, not least because I managed to persuade The Times, despite the ghastly time difference, to switch my space with the men’s European Tour event; that gave me a whole 400-odd words instead of 250, what a triumph!
“Is there much more of this?” I hear you ask. Well, I’ve plumped for what I still think is one of the best performances ever by a European golfer in America, up there with the best of Seve, Faldo, Sandy, Woosie, Langer, Chema, Annika, Padraig, Rory, whoever. Yes, THAT good.
It was Alison Nicholas winning the US Women’s Open and a trophy nearly as big as she was at Pumpkin Ridge in Oregon in 1997.
It was another occasion awash with emotion because Nicholas, three shots ahead, was paired with Nancy Lopez in the final round. I haven’t enough words to explain Nancy to those who’ve never heard of her but she was the darling of American golf, a superstar if ever there was one, who had never won her national title despite coming close several times. This would surely be her moment. The fire-hydrant-sized Englishwoman would surely crumble and Nancy would have the title she craved above all others.
This was a proper championship, with proper crowds and the place was packed, the atmosphere electric, with nearly every one of the tens of thousands there rooting for Lopez. As were most of the media. After all, why not? It was a wonderful tale waiting to be told and none of them anticipated Nicholas spoiling it all by having the nerve and the game to hold up under the strain.
As I remember it, Lopez started with two birdies and had another at the long 4th – and was still three behind. Nicholas, who holed a knee-trembler for a par at the 1st, then had a birdie and holed her pitch for an eagle three at the 4th. Game on.
I had a poxy edition with a half six deadline (British time) and the copy was usually a bit of a mish-mash because, essentially, with an 8-hour time difference bugger all had happened. Not this time. The first four holes were so sensational that the story wrote itself. I remember that there was a power cut but even it was well-timed, so I filed ok, then turned to Elspeth Burnside, a Scot working for numerous outlets and said, “You know, Elspeth, whatever happens from now on, we can’t lose.”
Nancy was a wonderful story and a wonderful person, so no problem there and I thought I didn’t really mind who won…..but as the day wore on, I realised that was nonsense; I really, really, really wanted Big Al to win.
And win she did – though a double bogey near the end set the nerves on edge and an alternative intro in the works. Nicholas, aided and abetted by Mark Fulcher, who was calmness personified and went on to more great things caddying for Justin Rose, shrugged off the setback and carried off the biggest prize of all.
And it all made the main edition.
Of course, one woman’s dream is another woman’s nightmare and there’s no escaping the fact that losing really, really hurts.On a more frivolous, cheerful note, I made good use of the cards I’d been hoarding for years and made a collage for my wardrobe door. How pleased was I to sort them all out but a few days later I discovered several more boxes of cards and realised I’d need the sort of wardrobe/closet space used by the late Doug Sanders to house his colourful collection of gear. RIP Doug, a very, very good golfer remembered more for his near misses in majors, particularly the 1970 Open at St Andrews where he missed THAT putt to win and was beaten by a shot by Jack Nicklaus in the 18-hole play-off.
Finally, congratulations to Sergio Garcia, his wife Angela and daughter Azalea on the arrival of Enzo Akins Garcia on the 10th of April. Someone, who’ll remain nameless, expressed disappointment that Sergio didn’t come up with a Masters-themed name for the new arrival. Well, I said, he could hardly have called him Magnolia, Georgia or Augusta. Back came the reply: What about Jack Verde Garcia……Very funny but thank goodness they had more sense! Enzo doesn’t know how lucky he is.
Finally, I leave you with this picture, just because it made me laugh.