It’s 34 years since the Ladies’ European Tour was last able to announce a 27 tournament season, but that is exactly what happened last week when the schedule for 2021 was revealed.. That was the number of times available for me to tee it up in 1987, my second year on tour – oh, those heady, heady days of looking for spaces in the diary to take a break from the tournament grind. Since then, however, it’s been a grind of a different order with recessions, bank crashes, questionable appointments of personnel and a pandemic all contriving to apply the last rites to a tour many said would not survive.
So far the lows have outweighed the highs but a 19 million Euro prize fund for this year will go a fair way to redressing the balance. Beginning with the South African Women’s Open in mid-May, the LET, so ably led by CEO Alexandra Armas (above), will offer their membership 23 consecutive weeks of tournament golf, which includes nine new events as well as the Solheim Cup and the Olympic Games (all being well, pandemic permitting).The upswing in the tour’s fortunes began in earnest in 2019 when the Europeans decided to grasp hold of the lifeline thrown to them by the other big hitters in the golfing arena, namely the LPGA, the European Tour and the R&A. The realisation that a healthy LET was important, and indeed beneficial to everyone, encouraged the harnessing of their collective will, contacts and commercial nous to mount a rescue package. Underpinning this success was the unwavering doubt that the product they were selling was, and had been for some time, absolutely first class. Despite the regular exodus of top players to America, Europe had enough strength in depth to deliver a winning Solheim Cup team at Gleneagles under the captaincy of Catriona Matthew. Thankfully even a Covid-impacted 2020 season didn’t derail the best-laid plans and so I’m not the only one to welcome this record-breaking 2021 schedule with impatience, hope and yes, a fair degree of pride that the LET is still standing. Another on the comeback trail is Jordan Spieth who has led the last two tournaments in the US after 54 holes. His last victory was in the 2017 Open at Royal Birkdale – (remember his off-the-planet tee shot on the 13th followed by an electrifying finish?) – but since then he has found himself in the doldrums. He didn’t manage to convert either advantage into a victory but his joy at being back in contention is evident.
Back in 2015 Jordan could do no wrong. The 22-year old wunderkind won the Masters, the US Open and three other tournaments. That same year I was out on the course commentating on his final round in the Open at St Andrews as he was bidding to win his third consecutive major. I was close enough to hear his conversations with his caddy Michael Greller and gain a fascinating insight into a steely competitor in the midst of battle. At one hole on the homeward stretch he left himself short left of the green with cruelly rumpled terrain between his ball and the hole. He charged up to his ball, assessed the unappetising shot and announced to Michael, “This is doable.” He proceeded to lip out. It was a wonderful example of the physical and mental being perfectly attuned, perfectly aligned and I’ve never forgotten it.At that time Jordan seemed almost bulletproof so what led to his drastic change in fortunes a few short years later? Never the longest hitter he announced he was going to work on gaining a few more yards and that appeared to derail the rest of his game. If you recall, it was a similar story with Luke Donald. He ascended to the No 1 world ranking in 2012 – and then set off in pursuit of more length almost as if he needed to justify that weighty tag around his neck. Subsequent injuries (not necessarily related to the search for more power) set him back even further and Donald is now trying to work his way back from a world ranking of 528.
There seems to be a very thin dividing line between self sabotage and striving to be better, a knife edge, in fact. Part of the DNA of a successful person in any walk of life is the relentless pursuit of perfection yet one push too far to attain the unobtainable can send the whole body of work crumbling like a house of cards. Some make it back, many don’t. Lee Westwood and Paul Casey are two who suffered slumps of epic proportions, yet are now producing their best golf in their forties. Ian Baker-Finch and David Duval are two who tumbled down the pecking order never to rise again.
So, having watched Jordan for almost four years handle endless interviews with grace and honesty, never shirking his media responsibilities, it’s a welcome sight to witness his upward trend. As a nation we do seem to like our heroes to suffer a bit – we don’t want them to have things all their own way. We value them more when we’ve witnessed them being vulnerable and have watched them displaying grit and tenacity over a period of time.
In their own separate ways both Jordan and the Ladies’ European Tour have displayed tremendous courage and no end of positivity in the face of doom and gloom. These green shoots of recovery are a welcome sight. Here’s hoping they flourish and thrive.