It’s still possible to learn new things when you’re confined to barracks, as I am, with suspected Long Covid.  (They don’t diagnose you with LC until you’re 12 weeks in and currently I’m only at 10.)  Last week, during my new pastime of watching daytime television, I realised that this (lack of) activity would surely result in a deep downward spiral of mood and feeling of well being.  The ads, which seem to outnumber any decent programming, are my main concern.  After being battered with the advantages of a “Pure Cremation” funeral and the increasing risks of shingles with advancing age it was with some relief that I turned to the last day’s golf at Abu Dhabi.

Here was a proper golf test for the skill level of the players involved.  A healthy breeze and firm greens, coupled with imaginatively designed greens and creative pin positions meant that it was impossible to predetermine the winner.  Shane Lowry scuppered his chances with not one, but two sevens, and Thomas Pieters, who did eventually triumph, did so with a final round of level par 72, superbly crafted in the testing, breezy conditions on the Yas links.  His mastery of flighting his irons to tight pins and controlling the spin was unmatched and it brought him his second victory in his last three outings.  Caddy Adam Marrow was on hand to pose with Pieters and the trophy (above).

It was a tournament that kept me watching to the end and, thankfully, the ads were all centred around golf and sport and not your impending old age and demise.  Note to self – no more daytime telly unless it’s recorded and I can fast forward past the non life-enhancing commercials.

Thomas Pieters savouring the sweet taste of success in Abu Dhabi last Sunday. [Photo TP’s twitter feed]

Over in California we were treated to dartboard golf with Hudson Swafford having to shoot 64 in the final round at the Pete Dye Stadium course in La Quinta to record his third PGA Tour win and keep all challengers at bay.  His back nine of 31 was enough to get the job done.  The Emerald Isle’s Seamus Power was in fine shape entering Sunday’s last round, only two behind the leader, but a final 74 sent him tumbling down the standings.  Still, a share of 14th place resulted in a two-spot move up the world rankings to 47th place.  I’ll be on constant Power watch from now until he secures his first Masters invitation.  Failing a tournament win, maintaining a top 50 world ranking until the cut-off date of March 28th will tick that goal off his list.

On the other side of America Danielle Kang was at the top of her mental game, shooting a final round 68 at a cold (temperature in the 50s) Lake Nona to win the Tournament of Champions.  She revealed that her coach, Butch Harmon, had told her to get out there and practise in cold, unpleasant conditions.  This paid dividends at Lake Nona but the plan was devised with the AIG Women’s Open specifically in mind.  Kang wants that title badly and is armouring herself with the technical and mental resources to combat the unpredictable British summer weather conditions.

No wins in 2021 but it didn’t take Kang long to get off the mark in 2022. [Thanks to the LPGA for the photo]

This year the championship is being held at Muirfield, a peerless links if ever there was one and a course I have been privileged enough to play probably 70 or 80 times.  It can be delightfully benign, weather-wise, in March and relentlessly cruel in July and August.

I remember in 2002, one of Ernie Els’ Opens,  that I was dispatched to accompany the inimitable Tony Adamson in commentary for 5 Live radio.  It was the Saturday afternoon and we were covering Nick Price and local favourite Colin Montgomerie, who had followed a disappointing first round 74 with an electrifying 64.  By the time we reached the tee shots on the first hole there wasn’t a speck of dry skin between us and it was tough to remain upright.

It only took till the par 3 4th before Monty completely lost the plot.  His beautifully struck 3-wood cleared a cross bunker (which has, I believe, since been filled in) by a mere yard yet was still a good 30 yards short of the flag.  His implosion was like watching a car crash – simply dreadful but horribly fascinating and it was totally impossible to look away.  The fact that Price covered the first nine holes in 36 didn’t help the Scot’s humour either. All these years later I find it hard to recall having seen a finer nine holes of golf played than the opening nine of the Zimbabwean that day.  Unforgettable.

Blue skies may or may not await the best women golfers in the world in August but Muirfield will be unsurpassed as a venue for the AIG Women’s Open. [Photo courtesy of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers]

So, if Danielle Kang IS targeting Muirfield, she’d better be prepared for just about anything – the mental challenge is matched by the quality and honesty of the course.  No trickery here in the set-up but a bucketful of artistry will be required by those wielding the clubs if they wish to lift that trophy.  It should be a great championship.