The rumble of the Ryder Cup juggernaut is growing ever louder and by the time this blog is posted we will only be a handful of hours away from the opening tee shot being dispatched into the Wisconsin air. Emotions will be high whether that first drive is taking place in a reverential, cathedral-like silence or in that first tee cauldron of noise so beloved by Bubba Watson.
It’s amazing, however, just where in sport you unexpectedly come across emotion that is as pure as anything found on the grandest stages of all. Last Sunday I thought I’d tune into the final knockings of the European Tour’s Dutch Open which was being played at Bernadus Golf, Cromvoirt. At the heels of the hunt it looked like a comfortable win for Sweden’s Kristoffer Broberg, but simply looking at the final scoreboard and seeing a three-shot victory doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of this particular story.
Broberg had won before on the European Tour – back in November 2015 – but had struggled in the intervening years with numerous injuries and surgeries and a spectacular lack of top ten finishes. So it seemed like fairytale stuff when he took an eight-shot lead into the final round – and opened with a birdie. That was probably his last comfortable moment for the next four hours. That substantial lead ebbed and flowed, receding at one point to two measly shots as Broberg fought his game with an exterior, at least, that looked reasonably cool.A priceless chip in from a sandy lie for a bogey and a crucial birdie on the penultimate hole meant that Broberg led by three shots going down the last. What looked like a regulation par 5 to those of us watching on from home belied the enormity of this achievement and what it meant to the 35-year old Swede.
It all came out in his interview with Sky’s John Morgan. Broberg was Borg-like in answering the first couple of questions but at Morgan’s gentle probing as to what the last six years had been like for him, the floodgates opened and his inner state was revealed to us in all its gulping, can’t breathe or speak, rawness.
Here was someone in front of us who had literally given his all and the cool shell he had so carefully preserved for so long fell away. He was unable to string a sentence together to tell us what the last six years had been like for him…..Finally, he managed to sob “six years of hell” as he stumbled off to the recorder’s office to check the scorecard through watery eyes.
He wasn’t the only one with watery eyes and I found myself uplifted by his triumphs over injury, circumstances, disappointments and set-backs. What a privilege it is to share, in a small way, these wonderful moments in a person’s life, all through the medium of sport.Watching the huge crowds of Dutch spectators and the lines of marshals all bedecked in their orange shirts took me back to my many happy times of playing in the Dutch Open. The first time I played in the Netherlands we played at The Royal Hague golf course, a wonderful, slightly old-fashioned test that examined every part of your game. I didn’t at that time have a regular caddy on tour (lack of funds, I suspect) but I was beginning to play quite well and decided I would ring ahead to the professional to organise a local caddy for myself. The pro was an Englishman and he was kind enough to give me the lowdown on the course with particular reference to the subtleties of the greens. He assured me he would sort out a caddy. The Tuesday of tournament week I arrived at the course and decided on an evening nine holes to acquaint myself a little with both the layout and the caddy. Imagine my surprise, then, when my caddy turned out to be a ten-year old boy! Ah well, I thought, perhaps he’s the Junior Champion and off we set to the first tee.
Walking along the path to the opening hole I thought I’d better find out a few things about this lad. The conversation went something like this:-
“So, are you a member here?”
“Oh, no. I’m not a member here.”
“Ah, where are you a member?”
“I’m not a member anywhere.”
“Oh, right. You’re not a member. I expect you’ve played here a lot, though?” I was basing this on the fact that I was sure the pro had sourced someone who would be a whizz at reading these subtle greens.
“No, no I haven’t.”
With mounting alarm I ploughed on.
“Ah. Where DO you play?
“I don’t play.”
At this point I took a few deep breaths and reminded myself that some of the best caddies I had ever encountered were the girl caddies in Asia and none of them actually played the game. It was time for the most critical question of all.
“Well, I expect you know the course well?”
At this point, with the insouciance of youth, he delivered a line that rendered me speechless and that I’ve never forgotten to this day.
“No, I don’t,” he said. “But don’t worry – there’s no need. All the holes are numbered!”
Footnote: I changed my caddy and only finished runner-up in the tournament. Who knows what would have happened if I’d stuck with the pro’s choice!