Last Friday I was a little late for singing (virtual, so at least I didn’t crash in panting and puffing, all hot and bothered). At least nobody said, “Late, as usual” with a musical emphasis because they’d probably forgotten that even when I’m on time, I’m always late, not quite sure exactly what a beat is, incapable of coming in when I should, mostly guessing what those squiggles on the page really mean. You can wing it on Zoom, on mute – keeping your mouth open, for instance, when you run out of breath long before the end of the note. Everybody knows you’re kidding but they can’t prove it. Even so, we’re all looking forward to getting together again and being found out for our fraudulent behaviour.
Helen, our lovely teacher, said, mock crossly (she can be tough but she’s hopeless at being fierce), “What time do you call this?”
I unmuted myself: “Sorry, I’ve just been on a Zoom call with Niall Horan.”
Now, this was true but since I’d been one of dozens, there was no way Niall had noticed that I’d put in an appearance, not least because I didn’t have occasion to say anything. As it happened that didn’t matter because my semi-boastful exaggeration fell pancake flat. “Who’s Niall Horan,” said Helen. “Is he a golfer?”
“He’s with a boy band,” sez I, thinking, should that be ‘was’? What age do you stop being part of a boy band and, worse, ‘Blimey, which one is it? Come on, you must know someone beyond The Monkees’. A little desperate, I blurted out, “He’s got 41 million Twitter followers.”
Fortunately, that seemed to impress everybody (though it’s not easy to tell on Zoom) and, even better, out of the ether, a confident voice said, “One Direction.” Phew, saved by a clued-up granny.Now, Niall is a very keen golfer, beyond fanatical really, so much so that he doesn’t just play, he’s trying to change the game, to expand its reach, promoting it madly in every direction (to hell with One, though you can’t knock its influence) through his company Modest! Golf. He’s already working with the R and A and the latest venture has elevated the ISPS HANDA World Invitational tournament to a new level, a tri-sanctioned event with the European Tour, the LET and the LPGA at Galgorm Castle (and Massereene) in Northern Ireland. There will be 144 women (half from the LET, half from the LPGA) and 144 men playing for a $2.35 million prize fund, split evenly. In other words, the women and the men will be competing for two equal purses. It’s a first for Europe but the format has worked well at the ISPS HANDA Vic Open in Australia.
Dr Haruhisa Handa, ISPS HANDA founder and chairman, believes in using sport to “unite communities and break down barriers” and said: “To see the tournament grow to a European Tour and LPGA sanctioned event is a testament to the importance of providing equal playing opportunities for men and women….” He is also a passionate supporter of blind and disabled golf and has found a soulmate in Horan, who said: “The message behind the tournament perfectly aligns with Modest! Golf’s ethos of providing opportunities for all and ensuring golf is a game for everyone….”
The dates are July 28th – August 1st, so with a bit of luck there’ll be plenty of spectators and welcome cries of “Quiet please” and “Stand still” from caddies and players back in action in front of fans on site rather than restricted to neighbouring fields. Last year, when Galgorm stepped in at the last minute to host the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, some of the stars of the show were not swinging clubs.At least Niall is not having to sneak around trying to hide his golf addiction for fear of being scorned by his fans. In Alice Cooper’s younger days he kept quiet about his love of golf because it wasn’t in keeping with his stage persona as the villainous wild man of rock. The other week, on Radio 2 of all stations, he revealed that a day or two after his 73rd birthday, he shot 69!! Let’s hope his fans understand.
Niall’s Twitter followers, mostly young females, will all have heard of golf by now – and as the man himself says, if only a tiny fraction of them become golfers, that’s an awful lot of golfers – but not all golfers have heard of Niall himself.
Later in the day I mentioned my meeting to a friend, a golfer with teenage grandchildren, and my friend said, “Who’s Niall Horan?”
“One Direction,” I said, newly clued up.
I explained about Modest! and added the clincher, “Tyrrell Hatton is one of their men.”
“Who’s Tyrrell Hatton?”
Gulp. “He’s the world No 5.” (Probably changed now but correct at the time.)
“Oh. I thought they made crisps.”
Wasn’t there a judge in the late 1960s, early 1970s who asked, “And just who are The Beatles?”…..Brendan Lawlor, another of Modest! Golf’s men, will be 24 on the 13th of March and he’s in the middle of walking 10 kilometres a day for 10 days, finishing on the 13th, to raise money for Children’s Health Ireland at Crumlin Hospital, the country’s largest paediatric hospital. Brendan, who is now one of the world’s leading disability golfers, was born with Ellis-van Creveld syndrome, a bone growth disorder that causes shorter limbs and says: “If it wasn’t for the amazing staff at Crumlin Hospital, I wouldn’t be here at all….It’s a charity particularly close to my heart….
“I’m aware that it’s a tough time financially for a lot of people and although we’re trying to raise funds, even if people just take part in it, that’s all I really want. People are at home, many are struggling mentally, a lot of young people don’t have much to do. I just want to give people a reason to get out and get active….”
So, we still have time to get started. Let’s get walking.
Finally, I came across this old card and thought it would come in handy – and then a friend sent me a piece quoting Rob Maxfield, chief executive of the PGA, on inclusivity (more kids, ethnic groups and, gasp, women) and mentioning that dread phrase “dress code”……Is that serendipity?
I haven’t quite got into the swing of my golf watching this year and I’m wondering why. After all, its not as if my diary is jam-packed with delicious things to do, people to see and events to attend, so why am I finding it easy to drift past the golf with the remote and find something else to while away the time of an evening?
I pondered this for a while and all I could come up with was that my own personal favourite players weren’t firing on all cylinders just yet and thus my interest in said tournaments waned. I’m also of the belief that we are saturated with televised golf to the extent that one tournament rolls into another. Sometimes the dial just shows “full”. For me, aside from the majors, weekend coverage would suffice and surely that would also help the production and commentary teams remain a little fresher and more innovative with their output?
Patricia sent me an interesting little article the other day from her eclectic golf archive which featured Derrick Pillage, a business manager of several of Britain’s young up-and-coming stars in the late 1960s. He was discussing several of the young players in his stable including Bernard Gallacher, Brian Barnes, Malcolm Gregson, Tony Jacklin and Tommy Horton. All were immensely talented and all became tournament winners and Ryder Cup players but even then Pillage felt our expectations of our young sportsmen and women were cripplingly high. He cited that Lee Trevino became Rookie of the Year on the PGA Tour at the handsome age of 28 and Arnold Palmer was 29 when he won his first tournament. Nowadays that is considered old, particularly when you have Lydia Ko saying that she sees 30 as her prime time to retire from the fairways. Mind you, she has been winning professional golf tournaments since the tender age of 15 and was the youngest player ever to ascend to world No 1, at the age of 17.
There’s no doubt that winners have become younger and younger but most seem to flare brightly for only a few seasons before the flame dies. Many multiple major winners annexe their titles in a relatively short space of time and then don’t win the big ones again. Padraig Harrington won his three majors in 14 months and Rory won his four in the space of three years and a couple of months. On the other hand, Mickelson took almost a decade to gather up his five majors while Faldo managed six in a similar time frame but Brooks Koepka won four in three years. Of course, hopefully, young guns like Rory and Brooks aren’t finished. We don’t expect them to be, but I wonder if sometimes we’re not a little unrealistic. It’s hugely difficult to win one major, yet I find myself chafing with disappointment when Rory “only” records a top five or top ten finish. It’s not like football, rugby, cricket or netball after all, where you only play one opponent at a time. Golfers sometimes have 155 other players to contend with and anyone can have the week of their life.
I’m not quite sure where I’m going with all this except to say that when longevity and multiple majors are married together we are witnessing something quite rare indeed. Gary Player won nine majors over a 19-year span and Nicklaus won his 18 over a spell of 24 years. Tiger managed 15 majors from 1997 to 2019, again an extraordinary length of time to be competitive at the very top of the sport.Only five women have achieved double digits in major victories: Patty Berg 15; Mickey Wright 13; Louise Suggs 11; Babe Zaharias 10; and Annika Sorenstam 10. Annika wasn’t born when the last major was won by her formidable band of predecessors (Wright’s win in the Women’s Western Open in 1966) but the Swede went on to dominate the women’s game and won her 10 majors between 1995 and 2006. She may well have had more in her locker but retired in 2008 to start a family and develop her other business interests.
Annika turned 50 last year and is eyeing up playing in a few Senior Women’s majors this season. To that end she dusted off her golf clubs last week and played in the Gainbridge LPGA tournament at her home course of Lake Nona in Orlando. She eschewed any notions that she was “coming out of retirement” but she couldn’t resist the opportunity for a little tournament golf in her own back yard in preparation for the Senior US Women’s Open. Despite an incorrect ruling, which cost her dearly, she made the cut on the number and delighted her fans by playing on the weekend. It was a remarkable achievement for someone who had barely played in the intervening 13 years and despite her own description of herself now as a “wife and a mother” I wouldn’t bet against her winning her first Senior major later in the year.
She is, after all, one of those rare beings who has married domination, longevity and multiple majors and they are few and far between in this most exacting of sports.I intend to turn over a new leaf as of now and rejoice in the accomplishments and successes of my favourites instead of feeling annoyed with them when they fall short of my ridiculous expectations. For a fan, realism, after all, can armour you against disappointment.
This blog likes to be a bit silly and tries not to take itself or anything else too seriously but sometimes life grabs you by the throat and shakes you so hard that you have to pay attention and stop wittering on about not playing your king of diamonds when you should have or your partner leaving you in 3 clubs when you’ve opened and she has 21 points on her own. Believe me, we bridge bores, especially those of us who know bugger all, can match golfers yawn for yawn.
On Tuesday, having seen the footage of Tiger’s courtesy car lying in a crumpled heap at the bottom of a wooded slope, I feared I’d be writing a bit of a eulogy, recalling his career and his influence on the game and whether he’d done enough to be called the greatest of all time. I refuse to use that ghastly acronym GOAT it’s just not good enough. A goat that’s not a horned ruminant animal is a foolish person, according to my dictionary, so perhaps Tiger, who’s an intelligent man, could come up with something better during the long months of recuperation and rehab.
The crash won’t have done his battered back much good – he had his fifth back surgery a few weeks ago – and his right leg and ankle were badly shattered . By all accounts he’s lucky to be alive, saved by a top-of-the range-SUV and his seatbelt. My goodness, some of us can remember the early days when we resented being told to wear the new-fangled safety thingys but a lot of people owe their lives to the way the slogan “clunk, click every trip” wormed its way into our brains and persuaded most of us to belt up whenever we get behind the wheel.
It’s a catchphrase that also became associated with Jimmy Savile, who was revealed, far too late, as a shameless, prolific sexual predator who blighted countless lives. He abused youngsters who looked up to him and trusted him and were too scared – and ashamed – to tell and ask for help. Earlier this week, Madelene Sagstrom, the 28-year old Swede who is defending the Gainbridge LPGA title at Lake Nona, revealed that she had been abused by a family friend when she was seven and had kept it to herself, ashamed she said, until she told Robert Karlsson, her coach, in 2016.
“This was something I was never going to tell anybody,” Sagstrom said, but Karlsson, Europe’s No 1 in 2008, twice a Ryder Cup player and, more importantly, an empathetic man, had asked her to think about why she was having so much trouble controlling her emotions on the course. She realised it was important to talk about the thing she’d buried for so long, spending years trying to pretend it didn’t matter that much. It proved cathartic.
“I’ve said the worst thing I can say,” Sagstrom recalled, “and I felt so free…..I wasn’t hiding any more…..”Golf had been her salvation and when she released her demons, she took her game to new heights, playing in the Solheim Cup in 2017, her rookie year on the LPGA tour and winning for the first time last year. She and the LPGA did not take the decision to share her story lightly but it is part of the Drive On campaign, which is designed to inspire by telling the players’ stories and revealing the people and characters beneath the visors.
Sagstrom’s harrowing tale appeared in full on lpga.com on Monday and a video was posted on her Instagram, with this introduction: “As human beings we’re all facing challenges and traumas. Hard, deep and emotional stories that change who we are and how we look at ourselves. This is my story. A story how I’ve handled trauma and grown into the person I am today. How I’ve changed the way I view myself and see my own worth. If you’re out there and feel alone, remember you’re not. We’re all in this together and there’s always light at the end of the tunnel.”
Not surprisingly, given the attention and the emotion, Sagstrom made a shaky start to the defence of her title with a round of 77, five over par, that included a birdie at the 1st but a couple of ugly double bogeys at the 15th and 18th. She’s 12 shots behind Lydia Ko, the leader but no one’s in any doubt that the defending champ has played a blinder this week and impressed countless people with her fortitude.
“It’s slightly overwhelming,” she said, “but it feels so good inside…..If I touch one life by telling my story, it will all be worth it.” Judging by the response so far, it’s been more than worth it. Thanks Madelene.
Annika Sorenstam, who played with Sagstrom, said, “It takes a lot of courage to do what she did, to be able to share some intimate personal stories from her childhood that must have just been obviously haunting her for years and years…..I’ve reached out and told her I’m proud of you and if you need anything I’m here to support you in whatever you need….”
For the record – and because the tournament doesn’t seem to be available anywhere on my telly – here are some scores: Sorenstam, venturing out of retirement at the age of 50, had a 75, as did Laura Davies and Carlota Ciganda; Leona Maguire 69; Sophia Popov 70; Albane Valenzuela, Charley Hull and Mel Reid 71; Georgia Hall 72; Stephanie Meadow 76; Yani Tseng 81.
The subject matter has been a bit grim this week, so I’ll finish with a bit of light and colour, courtesy of Caroline Scallon, who is, like so many of you, a jigsaw junkie. A thousand pieces from www.eurographicspuzzles.eu. Notice, Caroline says, with relief, that there are no “endless, seamless skies”. And no snow. The white stuff nearly defeated one veteran puzzler I know – nearly but not quite.
And finally, another Mary McKenna special to make our hearts soar.