What to write about this week? Well, I’ve polished up the trusty winter boots, taken them to our long-suffering, ever-accommodating professionals – nothing is too much trouble – and had some new, proper, old-fashioned spikes put in, ready for the out-of-lockdown off next week.
I hate soft spikes in the winter, don’t you? They don’t give enough grip, they get clogged up too easily – even Whittington’s been a bit mucky lately – and that makes them positively lethal, plus they don’t make that wonderfully evocative, click-clackety noise as you’re walking to the 1st tee.
People are champing at the bit to get back out on the course, so we’ve introduced 8-minute intervals – down from 10, a very civilised gap – and are asking people to play in fourballs if possible, preferably quickly, so everyone has a chance to get in as many holes as they can before it gets dark. I’m out, weather permitting, at 0740 next Wednesday, when golfers in England are allowed on the course again. I’ll be studying Maureen’s tips over the weekend, in the hope of finding the secret and trying to remember where I’ve stashed the clubs….
Or perhaps there’ll be a Black Friday/Weekend/Pandemic deal on a new set?
There’s a question I’ve been meaning to ask for a while but haven’t got around to looking up: what’s the difference between speaking and singing? And, what exactly is a note? Thanks to the inspiring Helen I know a lot more about singing than I used to. For instance, in attempting Over The Sea To Skye the other day I realised that I could hear the waves in the music – well, those of us lacking soul are a bit slow on the uptake – but I also know that I’ll never be a singer, notes are quite beyond me.
It’s a salutary day when a show-off has to concede that she really does have no outlet for her exhibitionist streak. Cue sighs of relief from her family and friends. Until they realise that Tyrrell Hatton is about to launch a John Daly inspired line of multi-coloured hoodies. Hope it’s not just a rumour because if they fit John, they’ll certainly fit me….And, hallelujah, Abba dabba doo, there’s always karaoke of course.
It was pouring with rain in the south of Spain on Thursday, as the LET players sloshed their way round the Real Club De Golf Guadalmina on the first day of the Andalucia Costa Del Sol Open De Espana. It was reminiscent of some of the weather during the Ryder Cup at Valderrama and brought back happy memories of all those tournaments in that neck of the woods and meeting up with the Ancient Britons, family and friends who lived on the Costa del Sol and now live on in our hearts.
Excuse me while I have a bit of a self-indulgent blub but I’ve been softened up, as always, by the late, great Maeve Binchy. A friend lent me her book Evening Class, which I hadn’t read for years and there I was devouring it late into the night, just like the old days, despite swearing that I was only going to read a few pages and WAS NOT going to keep going into the wee small hours. But I did. I’m a sucker for a happy ending and Maeve drags me in every time, the characters so well observed, the dialogue brilliant.
Out in South Africa, at Leopard Creek Country Club, Adrian Meronk, of Poland, was doing a bit of trailblazing. He led the Alfred Dunhill Championship after a first round of 65, to become the first Polish player to hold the lead in a European Tour event at the end of a round. And last Sunday, Ondrej Lieser, of the Czech Republic, won the Challenge Tour Grand Final and topped the Road to Mallorca Rankings. Good golfers are cropping up everywhere, which can’t be anything but good for the game.Dai, who knew a good golfer when he saw one, despite falling a bit short of that category himself, paid a flying visit to Leopard Creek a few years ago, being whizzed the 500-odd miles there and back in Johann Rupert’s private plane. There’s no hanging about if you’re invited to play a few holes with the owner of the course, one of South Africa’s richest men, an entrepreneur with a love of sport.
Not sure if Dai saw a real leopard, the member of the Big Five that is notoriously difficult to spot – even I have seen the other four, elephant, Cape buffalo, lion and rhino, on my one visit to South Africa – but it was a memorable trip nonetheless, not least for its whirlwind quality and he took pictures to prove it. In the bottom two snaps, Johann is, according to Dai’s captions, picking his way back to the 9th hole, which he played, inadvertently, via the 18th.
I think even the professionals find it hard to concentrate on their game at Leopard Creek, which is on the southern border of the Kruger National Park and is a haven for wildlife. It makes perfect telly viewing on a chilly winter’s day, even without David Attenborough to provide the commentary.
Finally, many congrats to Stephanie Meadow on finishing third in the Pelican Women’s Championship in Florida, five shots behind the winner Sei Young Kim and two behind Ally McDonald. Mel Reid continued her good form with a share of 12th place.
Wow, wow, wow! What a Masters! A record score of 20 under by new champ Dustin Johnson; an amazing performance of shooting all four rounds in the 60s by uber-talented Aussie, Cameron Smith – the first man ever to achieve that feat; and a record number of hours that yours truly sat on an ever-broadening backside and immersed self in the whole November Masters vibe and experience.
And I wouldn’t have changed a single thing about it all. Actually, that’s not quite true. A McIlroy win would be the cherry on top for this particular blogger. Alas, an opening albatross of a 75 meant that despite being the best player on the course for the last three rounds Rory could only manage a joint 5th place. All very laudable, but it’s probably almost as tough being a Rory fan at the moment as it is being Rory. Perhaps he needs to work with a performance coach – Dave Aldred comes to mind.
In the recent past, Aldred has worked with Luke Donald, whom he steered to No 1 in the world, and Francesco Molinari who became Open champion two years ago and the only European to win five points out of five at the Ryder Cup. I recall a conversation I had with Denis Pugh, Francesco’s coach, a while back when I quizzed him about Aldred’s methods. It boiled down to every practice shot being competitive and with a consequence, just as it is on the course. By all accounts it’s a brutal regime, designed to knock the player off balance, push all his buttons and tire him mentally, all the while demanding precision shots. The reasoning is that your practice should be infinitely more taxing than anything you may meet in tournament play.
I suspect there’s only so much a player can take of that and as Denis succinctly put it, “If you actually LIKE Dave when you’re working with him, then he’s not doing his job.” Perhaps this would benefit Rory but I’m not sure I could ever see him turning himself over so completely to any coach, performance or otherwise.An unexpected bonus of this edition of the Masters was the hitherto unheard of use of drones at Augusta National. They provided stunning photography and gave those of us at home a real appreciation of the undulating landscape, slopes and angles that the players have to face. There is no doubt these pictures were enabled and enhanced by the fact that there were no patrons present. This year the required space to manipulate these little beauties was readily available without their irritating buzz being within earshot of the protagonists. We were treated to the camera swooping in at ground level, giving us a worm’s eye view of the examination test – something that may well be impossible when those slopes are once again cloaked with thousands of patrons. What’s the betting the green jackets will have patented a noiseless drone come next April? Sunday was a very special day in the life of DJ, but also, in a much more modest way, it was a good day for me. Apart from winning the sweep and looking forward to buying some very nice red wine, I received a call from the WestwoodOne radio crew from on site at Augusta. We have worked together at the Masters for the last four years but the company is not sanctioning any international travel at the moment. Neither am I, of course and I did enjoy my week at home but it was the highlight of my day to hear from them all. Here’s hoping next April isn’t too early to expect to be able to travel.
As if I hadn’t overdosed enough on golf I also found time to turn to the Aramco Saudi Ladies’ International Presented by Public Investment Fund. That really trips off the tongue, doesn’t it? The Royal Greens Golf & Country Club looked spectacular and the demanding, closing par-5 18th hole was one of the best holes I’ve ever seen in a play-off. It was the ultimate risk-reward test where even the lay-up was scary. I was rooting for Welsh player Lydia Hall, who finished a creditable sixth behind the multi-talented Dane Emily Pedersen, who produced a stunning birdie in extra time to edge out the ever-consistent Georgia Hall.
I hadn’t really any intention of tuning in to the tournament because I’m not really certain that I approve of the Tour being there. I’m well aware of the potential positives – if they do indeed happen. We’ll wait and see. Neither do I blame those players who have travelled there. After all, a $1,000,000 prize fund dangled in front of players who struggle to have enough tournaments a year in which to hone their games can be very persuasive. There is a second team tournament taking place at the same course this week and I will watch with interest to see if ultimately this liaison proves to be more than “sportswashing” on behalf of the Saudis, i.e. using sport and large prize funds to attract global goodwill while not addressing an appalling human rights record. However, communication and interaction CAN lead to great breakthroughs…..so, fingers crossed.
Our bubble has reduced back down now that Patricia has returned home to Staffordshire. We will both miss her, but NOT the inordinate amount of time she spends endlessly recycling every plastic container within sight. Each is stripped of its paper label, which is then neatly folded ready for its designated bin. Each plastic pot and lid is washed and put to drain on the rack and the mountains of creased and folded tin foil “ready to be sorted” have thankfully diminished.
Could this be the new definition of “wasting one’s time” I wonder? Be that as it may, life has, for the moment, returned to its Covid-normal.
First, an apology and a correction. Last week I had Peter McEvoy making the cut at the Masters in 1977, taking as gospel something I read in a bible, usually reliable, devoted to the amateur game. I knew McE, who’s now 67 and was given a handicap of plus 2 under the new system, had won the Amateur Championship twice but I couldn’t remember the dates and didn’t bother to double-check. He won in 1977 and 1978 and it was in April 1978 that he first played at Augusta National and completed all 72 holes.
Belatedly in checking mode, I rooted out Dermot Gilleece’s splendid book Breaking 80, The life and times of Joe Carr: “Joe appeared in three US Masters at Augusta, becoming the first Irishman to play in the event in 1967. In that year he was paired with defending champion Jack Nicklaus for the opening two rounds. Nicklaus failed to make the cut while Joe went on to play the final 36. The following year Joe was paired with Arnold Palmer. He too failed to make the cut as Joe sailed into the final two days.”
That led to a quip from the austere, autocratic chairman: “When we sat down to eat on the Friday night of the tournament,” Joe recalled, “Cliff Roberts [said chairman] said: ‘Well, now. We’re thinking of inviting Carr back next year but who in the name of God will play with him?’ So they gave me Sam Snead in 1969 and neither of us qualified.”
Christy O’Connor Snr had turned down several invitations to play in the Masters because it didn’t make financial sense to him to travel to America for just one event but Joe, a successful businessman, could afford to go. “In fact,” he said, “I became a member of Augusta National in 1967 and I retained my membership for about five years. But the annual subscription was about $7,500 which I found difficult to justify, even though I could afford it at the time. It was a lot of money in those days for what was only an annual visit.”
That’s the trouble with research and opening books – you start reading and it’s hard to stop.
It wasn’t Tiger Woods’s week at Augusta this year – the defending champion racked up a 10 at the par 3 12th, the hole that was so kind to him last year and then had five birdies in the last six holes – but he has an extra special event to look forward to just before Christmas, on the 19th and 20th of December. He’ll be playing with his son Charlie, who’s 11 years old, in the PNC Championship at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club Orlando, Grande Lakes Resort. It’s a jolly, fiercely competitive get-together for major champions and their rellies, a 36-hole scramble for the Willie Park Trophy, with a purse of more than a million dollars.
It was for fathers and sons originally, won by Raymond Floyd and Raymond Jr for the first three years but the event has evolved: Annika Sorenstam will be playing with her father Tom for the second successive year, Justin Thomas will be playing with his dad Mike and Gary Player with a grandson. Bernhard Langer, the indestructible, who last week became the oldest player to play all four rounds at the Masters, will be defending the title he and son Jason won last year. As far back as 2005 and 2006, Langer won the title with son Stefan, then he and Jason won in 2014.Tiger’s body is creaking more than a bit but he’s still a long way short of being one of the over-50s. If he ever does decide to join the old boys – and it’s unlikely he’d make more than the odd guest appearance – I hope he’d do it to visit new places and try courses he’d never been to. Rosapenna in Donegal probably won’t make his list but it should. I haven’t been for years, which is my loss and I look forward to going and taking in all the changes when we’re allowed to travel again. No pandemic has lasted for ever….
Next August, 20-22, all being well, we’ll be able to enjoy the Irish Legends Presented by The McGinley Foundation at the Old Tom Morris Links at Rosapenna Hotel & Golf Resort. I’m reliably informed by irishgolfdesk.com that this is the first professional seniors event to be staged in Ireland since 2010, when Marc Farry, of France, won the Handa Irish Senior Open at Carton House. The European Seniors Tour, which gave up the ghost this year, wiped out by COVID-19, is being re-invented as the Legends Tour and as well as the professional names, amateurs will be a key part of the revival thanks to the Alliance Pro-Am format. Get your game in to some sort of shape, scrape together a bit of dosh and you could be out there with the not-so-old-codgers like Pauls Lawrie and McGinley, Woosie, who knows who. Something to look forward to. As well as Ireland, they’re scheduled to play at La Moye in Jersey, Trevose in Cornwall, Sunningdale in Surrey (The Senior Open Presented by Rolex – lots on Tik-Tok presumably) and Formby in Lancashire/on Merseyside, to mention just a few of the venues.
I’m home now after spending a few days in my bubble with Maureen and Brian, being spoiled and pampered while gorging on golf from Georgia. Back to catering for myself, writing shopping lists, pouring my own gins, doing the washing, contemplating the cobwebs, keeping my distance….. Ah, it’s good to be back!