Well, a fairly significant milestone birthday has come and gone in the last few days and I find myself having arrived inside the gates of pensionerdom, as I like it call it. Admittedly, it was a much more pleasant prospect from the sun-drenched mountains and hiking trails of Gran Canaria than it is now back in cold, rainy, storm-torn England and so plans are afoot to get back to doing a bit more travelling in 2024.
For starters, the men’s four majors are all back on my agenda for this season, working for Sirius XM. Last time that happened was 2019 – it seems a million miles away – and the landscape of the men’s professional game has changed unbelievably in that time. That segment of the sport will surely have to work very hard indeed to win back all the fans sickened by the relentless display of greed and entitlement. Hopefully, things will settle down eventually.
First up is, of course, the Masters, the only one of the majors played at the same venue each year. That’s psychologically challenging for the players as the minute they set foot back on the grounds all the old memories, good and bad, coming rushing back, often unbidden. It’s why the police run reconstructions of crimes, sometimes long after the event. Why, last week I revisited some hiking trails from last year and during the walk was even able to recall meeting other hikers at certain points, our conversations and where we might come across a good viewing spot for a lunchtime break. The human brain is just amazing.
Anyway, this is one of the challenges facing one of the blog’s favourites, Rory McIlroy, every time he pitches up at the first major of the year. Back in 2011 he had a four-shot lead going into the final round and appeared to be on the cusp of his first major title. A dodgy, nervy front nine saw his lead reduced to a single shot and his total meltdown started on the 10th tee with a wild tee shot miles left. I’m pretty sure that particular gremlin is there to meet him every year – and will be until the day he manages to make room in his wardrobe for a green jacket.
Coupled with that is that this is the one major the Irishman needs to complete the full set and so become only the sixth player in history to complete the career grand slam. No pressure there then.
The second of the four majors is the PGA Championship, back once again in Louisville, Kentucky at Valhalla Golf Club. Last time I was there the club and city proved incomparable hosts to all the visiting European media and fans for the 2008 Ryder Cup. They collectively produced a faultless tournament – unlike the European team, so poorly led by Nick Faldo. Best to draw a veil over that, methinks.
The US Open is back at Pinehurst in North Carolina, a golfing mecca, and America’s equivalent of St Andrews, if you like. It’s where the sister had her first overseas golf assignment as a writer and where she met her husband and so many soon-to-become longstanding friends within the golf industry. Many, many happy memories abound and therefore it was no surprise when she bit my hand off upon being asked would she like to come with me. Hmm, we might even have to extend that trip a little longer than just the working week. Would be rude not to.And then there’s the Open, back at Royal Troon, a really familiar stomping ground for all women amateurs with the renowned Helen Holm tournament being played there every year over the Portland and Old courses. It was also the scene, one year, of me taking thirteen blows at the famous 123-yard 8th hole, the Postage Stamp, in said Helen Holm.
It was one of those days you could hardly stand up in and I shot +11 on the final day, dropping ten of my shots at that brilliantly designed little terror. [NB +1 for 17 holes on a tough, tough day – ed.] Mum was caddying for me that day and was embarrassed at the hash I was making as I criss-crossed the green visiting several bunkers. Her admonishment to me to “pick the ball up and come on out of that. You’re holding up the whole course” put her in real peril.
It was only because I was several feet below ground in a bunker and couldn’t reach her that I didn’t throttle her.Not surprisingly, there was not much chat from there to the clubhouse but over the years that tale became part of the family golf lore and many a laugh we’ve all enjoyed – at my expense, of course!
Finally, already in the diary with accommodation booked and anticipation rising is a trip to attend this year’s Curtis Cup at the end of August at the delightful Sunningdale Golf Club in Ascot. It’s a great contest between the best female amateurs of Great Britain & Ireland and those of the United States and for the first time in the history of the game one of the teams has a professional golfer as captain.
Catriona Matthew, twice a winning Solheim Cup captain, is taking charge – a wonderful move, in my opinion. I was never a fan of limiting that sort of role to amateurs alone, thus cutting yourself off from a wealth of experience and information residing in those who play for a living. We are all golfers, after all – it’s irrelevant to me if you’re amateur or professional. Just get the best for the job – which is exactly what’s happening here.
The match is always a wonderful week, affording us a glimpse of future world beaters and allowing us to wander the fairways (yes, really!) following the matches, renewing acquaintances and friendships made decades past. This is sport at its finest – no monetary or financial gain. There’s simply the pride and pleasure of representing your country. It’s refreshing and uplifting and if men’s professional golf throughout the year hasn’t wised up, it’ll be akin to coming across an oasis in the desert.
It’ll also be the best week of my year.