Well, did you watch it? And don’t ask “what?” I am, of course, talking about the first live golf to grace our screens since the middle of March. The Taylor Made Driving Relief skins match between the partnership of Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson and that of Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff took place at iconic Seminole, venue of next year’s Walker Cup match. It was golf but not as we know it.
The first novelty was seeing the players in shorts as opposed to what my mother used to refer to as “waiters’ trousers” – ie black and shapeless trews. That received a big tick from me and I can’t see why men’s professional golf should ever consider that shorts are not de rigueur in proper tournament rounds. What a great time this is to ditch outmoded notions that golf and some golfers hang on to. We are slowly, slowly emerging in to a new world and golf, with its naturally inbuilt social distancing, has an advantage over most other popular sports. Let’s make the most of that and be unafraid to make our great sport more attractive to 21st century living. (I can’t believe that dress code in golf is STILL an issue!) Below Phil Mickelson and Patrick Reed sport the dreaded waiters’ trousers so hated by Mum. Tiger also seems to be a fan of this particular article of attire.
The next oddity was seeing four of the best in the world carrying their clubs, doing their own yardages with rangefinders and assiduously wiping down their clubs after each shot. They looked like US! Well, not really, but you know what I mean. Virtually every club in the land has players who look like that and because of that their shots and quality of play stood out for me even more. They were simply golfers….not the super heroes we are accustomed to seeing, attended by agents and with caddies weighed down with enormous tour bags trailing in their wake. Strip away the trappings of the circus that normally surrounds these players and their skills stand out even more. The only difference between them and us now is the quality of their golf – apart from that they looked like any fourball of young guys out to enjoy a game. I loved it.
If there were ever a lesson that there is more than one way to play this game it was encapsulated by these four markedly differing swings. Rory is arguably the most orthodox of the four; Dustin has a very shut position at the top with a bowed left wrist position; Rickie is flat and laid off going back; and Matt Wolff’s backswing loop is reminiscent of that of the late great Jimmy Bruen, Ireland’s answer to Bobby Jones. Where they become more similar is on the approach into and through impact and as long as you find a way to repeat that action you’re away in a coach. As one very fine champion said to me many moons ago – you don’t hit a ball on the way back.It was lovely to get a look at the Donald Ross creation that is Seminole, home club of Rory’s Dad, Gerry. It’s all about the angles in to the pins so that puts a premium on driving the ball into the right area. The greens are not overly large and tend to have the upturned saucer look thus repelling rather than gathering approach shots. Inevitably greens will be missed and a nifty short game is of paramount importance – hopeful Walker Cuppers take note. Frisky sea breezes add up to a wonderful test of all golfing skills and a rare treat awaits those who do make the two Walker Cup sides in 2021. At this juncture I must give a nod to NBC and the TV production. It’s incredibly difficult to cover 18 holes of golf with only six cameras and apparently at times the players were held back from playing until the TV folk were in position. The amount of filling-in required when no golf was being played was therefore extensive, leading to numerous ads and even at one point a lengthy phone call with the Donald. I can forgive them that in light of the aim of the whole deal which was to raise money for charitable causes aligned with the coronavirus pandemic. In total more than $5.5 million was raised – an outstanding effort.
So, all in all, there was much to enjoy and laud about the event, recognising the collective effort of all involved. Two final observations – the commentator (I think it was the excellent Steve Sands) had a few words with Rory after the world No 1 had hit his approach on to the 18th green. As Rory walked up on to the green, clubs on his back, the commentator mused, “This is probably the first time a pro carrying his own bag has walked on to a final green facing a putt worth $1.1 million.”
And finally, wouldn’t it have been a great opportunity to have had two top female professionals involved? Lip service is being paid to equality and inclusion across most of the golfing world now but, alas, action still falls some way behind.