The best players in the world – or a fair number of them – are in China this week for the initial-rich WGC-HSBC Champions event in Shanghai, a trading city well used to dealing with the rest of the world long before professional golfers were ever a gleam in anyone’s eye. It’s a place well used to the dramatic, so golfers flying in in spectacular style, dressed as super heroes or whatever, fitted in nicely.It got me thinking: if I were to design a golfer with all the powers, which bit of which players would make up the composite? Annika, Tiger and Jack were pretty good at most things but none of them was perfect, so how would you make up your very own super-hero golfer?
Where would you start? Easy, said my mate at the golf club: best driver, best long-iron player and so on. Oh, OK then, who’d you choose? He, a Staffordshire man, went for people he’d played with over the years and I reckon his selection, only one of whom became a professional (and won two major championships), could hold its own with more stellar names – at the very least the stellar names would have to play out of their spikes to come out on top and justify their super-heroic status.
Geoff Marks, late of this parish, would do the driving; Sandy Lyle, Open and Masters champion, would be in charge of the long irons; Dr David Marsh would be the mid-iron man – and who could question the nerve of someone who could hit the shot of his life into the 17th green at St Andrews with the Walker Cup on the line? [That may not sound like much but given the circumstances, not least GB&I’s woeful record against the Americans, it was immense.] Michael Bonallack, now Sir Michael, five times (British) Amateur champion, secretary of the R&A, among many other honours, would do the putting – look upon his works ye mighty and despair; he was so good that once, when he had a putt of 25 feet or so to take a match to the 19th, he was on his way to the 1st tee before the putt was halfway to the hole.
That leaves one position to fill: that of short game maestro, from 100 yards in. My man went unerringly for Ronnie Hiatt, who never played for England but was a Midlands, Warwickshire and Atherstone legend. Ronnie, a fitter at Massey Ferguson, with limited time off, didn’t really know how he did it but he had an unerring eye for distance – even his rare misses finished pin high – and his putting was in the Bonallack class.Here are some examples of Ronnie’s prowess: his opponent holes out of a greenside bunker and Ronnie follows him in. “Jammy so and so,” sezs the opponent, whereupon Ronnie puts his ball back in the bunker and holes out again. “The difference,” he said, matter of factly, “was that I was expecting to hole mine and you were trying to get yours close.”
Playing Marks (England, GB and I), who outdrove him by miles, in a county match, Ronnie was 50 yards short of the final green in two, with Geoff on the back of the green. Asked the state of the match, Ronnie said, “All square but I’ve got him.” He put his shot stone dead and it was Geoff who had to hole a nasty 4-footer for the half that gave Staffordshire the overall match.
Then there was the time Ronnie was playing for Whittington Heath against Copt Heath with the result hanging on his game. He was three up with four to play but his opponent had three birdies to square the match, hit a great drive 30 yards short of the last green, then watched as Ronnie, hitting a full 8-iron, holed out for a winning birdie 3.
Ronnie, who’s now in his 90s, also topped my informant’s best mental attitude category and was described as “the nicest guy you could ever play golf with”. Great stuff. I love being a captivated audience.
Ronnie won the Atherstone club championship so many times he’s in the Guinness Book of Records but when I tried to be good and double check that on the Guinness World Records website, I seemed to end up applying to set a record myself and was told it might take a few weeks to register because there was a very long waiting list. Aaaagh. Perhaps there’s a computer incompetence section because I also tried checking the Atherstone website for some facts and figures – and failed miserably to find what I was looking for.
Still, I did learn that “Atherstone is the only club in history to produce three Ryder Cup players……” Bernard and Geoff Hunt (sons of the club professional John) and Paul Broadhurst. Very impressive but even I, without any trawling of records, know that that proud claim is no longer valid. Thanks to Stephen Gallacher, who joined his uncle Bernard and the incomparable Eric Brown as a Ryder Cupper, Bathgate’s tally is also up to three.
Never forget that a website is like a baby: it needs constant attention!
The seniors are at Forest of Arden this weekend – today, tomorrow and Sunday, weather permitting – and I was going to wander over, see a few of the not-really-so-old-codgers that I knew a bit first time around, take some happy snaps and have a congenial day chatting, reminiscing, whatever. Sadly, the weather did not lend itself to anything but staying indoors listening to the rain hammering on the roof and accepting that it was the ideal time to do all those jobs that needed the outdoors to be spectacularly uninviting. I didn’t do them of course but they’re on the list…It seems that Peter Baker, always a favourite, is now 50 and the host of the Farmfoods European Senior Masters at the Forest of Arden Marriott Hotel and Country Club. He’s there with a load of other Ryder Cuppers, including winning captains Sam Torrance, Ian Woosnam and Paul McGinley, a star-studded line-up by anybody’s standards. They’ve had great careers, great fun and they’re still going. Sam, who probably could never have imagined himself thinking such a thing, said that turning 50 was terrific and why wouldn’t ageing golfers love it? Colin Montgomerie, over in America, is winning majors at last and Bernhard Langer has been consistently grinding the opposition into the divots. No doubt their wives, quite a few of whom have been there for the duration, or as near as dammit, are relieved that their men are still hunched over on the putting green, obsessed with the game and outside, not cluttering up the sofa and wondering what to do with their retirement. I have a memory of talking to Sam’s father Bob, a great coach, in New Orleans – or was it that ghastly non-golf course near Atlanta, every hole a separate entity, every house a mansion on a tiny plot, an up-and-down route march of several miles that was a wonderful work-out pre the big Masters at Augusta? I think Bob was helping Woosie at the time and he was fascinating on the subject, though because he was so enthusiastic and speaking to someone he knew, it wasn’t always easy to catch his drift. I understood most of the words and some of the concepts and it still makes me smile and remember Bob fondly; sorry your knowledge was mostly wasted on me, Bob, but you did help me understand a bit more about the swing and golf at the sharp end, for which many thanks. It was always great to bump into you and June and have a chat.
There’s talk of a joint European tour event with the men and women next year but if it’s going to be a head-to-head affair, beware. I believe there were fisticuffs or, at the very least, full and frank exchanges, when the seniors played the women in Portugal in a season-ending “friendly” a few years ago. Sadly, I wasn’t there but it was matchplay and there was, I believe, a certain amount of disagreement about which tees should be used. The women won at the third time of asking and, funnily enough, that was that. At Whittington Heath we women play an annual match against the seniors – stableford matchplay playing off our own tees and card, which seems to work well enough in that the matches tend to be close – and it’s still going, probably because we always lose!
The LET, seemingly limping along, is hanging fire, apparently, on talks with the LPGA, the R&A and the European Tour but was making a presentation to the All-Party Parliamentary Golf Group at Westminster the other evening. It’s never a bad idea to have friends in high places and the MPs are keen “to support the sport of golf” in all its forms. The LET is keen “to promote and develop golf for women and girls” and Mark Lichtenhein, the chair who is trying to hold things together and Trish Johnson, a player with impeccable credentials and vast experience, are in the forefront of promoting the cause.
Golf is either struggling or thriving, depending on which study you read and sometimes it’s doing both in the same place at the same time. Nothing’s set in stone and you have to tailor your club or your course or your tour to the circumstances but the game’s the thing and I guarantee it’ll be frustrating somebody somewhere in some form or another for as long as there are people tempted to swing a club.