Welcome home. Is it good to be back? Well, yes, I think so but it’s a bit weird to return to reality after six weeks away when the most pressing decision was really not very pressing at all. Where were we going to eat? Did we need to visit the wine shop (cellar door prices, in rand)? Anyone fancy a hike? Had the mother of the bridegroom (Pam V) found her outfit yet? Another visit to Tallulah’s then? Lunch at the market? Coffee almost anywhere? Wine tasting? Wine tram? Breakfast at Cafe Bon Bon? Cocktails at (Sir Richard Branson’s) Mont Rochelle? Lounging by the pool? Ready for another book? Golf? Gym? Wine? Football? Rugby? Outdoor concert?
It’s hardly surprising that coming home is a bit of a shock. I put my washing out but there was no one there to lob it in with theirs; it’s still lying around waiting for someone – that’ll be me I suppose – to put it in the machine. The unpacking isn’t straightforward because there’s a lot of it – thank you Emirates for not charging for the excess – and shows me that my drive towards minimalism is lacking in, well, frankly, drive. The floor is still rippling like the ocean wave – must ring the insurers – and the clock on the boiler is all to, well, not quite clock but what’s a road to ‘l’ between friends….
As you can probably tell, I’m tired and confused. Tired because, although there’s no jet lag involved from South Africa, it’s a long, long journey and confused because I’ve started listening to the parliamentary debates on Brexit and am now retreating, baffled, bewildered but definitely not bewitched. Think I’ll concentrate on tai chi, bridge and golf from now on. That’s more than enough for me and my remaining brain cell.At first glance, from the clubhouse, all looks serene at Whittington Heath but there are diggers everywhere, gouging, lifting and laying, reshaping, adding bunkers. The winter eclectic’s been abandoned because the course is never the same, with tees and greens changing on a daily basis. Every round is an adventure but the general consensus is that it’ll be worth it, that another course of genuine quality will emerge from the chaos. And who could quibble when there’s a Ditch Witch about? Hope she’s staying on.
We saw very few non-white golfers in South Africa – perhaps we were playing in the wrong places at the wrong times – but the latest missive from the ANNIKA Foundation featured a young woman who made my heart soar and made me think that the future’s in safe hands after all. She’s called Kaiyuree Moodley and represented South Africa at the Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires last year. She shared second place in the ANNIKA Invitational USA in January (after a three-way play-off) and although she won’t be 18 until next month, she sounds remarkably mature to me.Kaiyuree fell in love with golf at the age of four when her parents gave her a set of plastic clubs and she advises girls following in her footsteps to “enjoy the game and don’t focus too much on your scores. If you love it, the good scores will come.”
She’s keen to promote the game at home and said, “I love the fact that the ANNIKA Invitational is played in Europe, South America, North America, Asia and Australasia but I want to speak to Annika about the possibility of bringing the tournament to our continent. But it will take more than that to get more young girls interested in the sport. It starts at grassroots level. Golf is an expensive sport and there needs to be a definite drive to make sure that young people who are interested are supported and nurtured.”
Kaiyuree’s favourite golfer is Bruce Koepka – “I love his tenacity” – but her role model is the late Nelson Mandela. “Madiba, as we refer to him, took the approach of forgiving his apartheid tormentors and today my life is filled with opportunities that my parents didn’t have. I am considered a born-free in South Africa – this refers to people born after our first democratic elections in 1994. Even more special is the fact that I was born on this day, Freedom Day, the 27th of April.”
There’s no sign of Kaiyuree’s name in the scores after yesterday’s first round of the Investec South African Women’s Open at Westlake Golf Club in Cape Town where the players were blown to blazes by the Cape’s notorious southeaster, with gusts of up to 50 kilometres an hour. The only two players to break par were Lina Boqvist of Sweden and Sarah Schober of Austria, who were on 71, one under. The event is co-sanctioned by the Sunshine Ladies Tour and the LET (Ladies European Tour) and familiar names well in contention include Lee-Anne Pace, Kelsey MacDonald, Michele Thomson, Lydia Hall, Annabel Dimmock, Carly Booth and Meghan McLaren, who’s just won in Australia, to mention just a few.
Finally, congratulations to Michelle Wie who’s just got engaged to Jonnie West, who works for the Golden State Warriors and is the son of Jerry West, a former NBA great (I quote, not being a big basketball fan but presumably Jonnie knows all about sporting celebrity and its pitfalls). One headline, rather inelegantly, read: “Michelle Wie off the market after getting engaged.” That aside, it’s lovely news and let’s hope they have a long and happy marriage.
It’s time for golf to get a grip on itself – literally. Seemingly every week nowadays the top players of the world are making headlines – for all the wrong reasons. What happened to no one player being bigger than the game? As long as I’ve been involved in golf – over a mere half century – the sport has set itself apart from others in terms of its stringent self-policing and integrity.
Alas, a great deal of that seems to have gone out the window.
Michael Bamberger, writing for golf.com this week, pinpoints one of the key moments he feels things began to change. Many of you will remember it well – the 2013 Masters on the 15th hole when Tiger took an incorrect drop?
It only came to light in Tiger’s press conference after the round and after his card had been signed. He stated he went back a few extra yards to give himself a better yardage in to the flag – something he was not entitled to do under that rule. It was an innocent mistake, a bungling mix of two different dropping procedures, but a clear cut transgression.
It should have resulted in disqualification. But it didn’t.
Fred Ridley, the current chairman of Augusta National Golf Club, was the member of the rules committee who delivered the news that Tiger was still in the tournament. Alarm bells rang in my mind instantly, followed by disappointment that Tiger didn’t step forward and withdraw. An off-the-record conversation with another member of that rules committee, who was not a member of ANGC, resulted in him stating, “It wouldn’t have been my ruling.”
Almost six years later Bamberger is of the mind that: “the residual effects are in evidence. Ever since, the us-against-them mentality has escalated.”
Is Bamberger right in that? Is there really an increasing divide between the top proponents of the game and the ruling bodies? Just cast your mind back over the last five years. The raft of high-profile rules rows has kept some of us entertained and appalled in equal measure.
There was Dustin Johnson at the 2016 US Open, penalised two shots for supposedly having caused his ball to move on the green. He had played a good half dozen holes before he was informed that a penalty was possible – and was then left to complete his final round, trying to win his first major, without any idea what his overall score was. In the end, he won by enough to make the penalty irrelevant to the outcome, but the handling of the situation by the rules officials was woeful. More grist to the mill in the them-against-us scenario.Lexi Thompson failed to replace her ball correctly on the 17th green in the third round of the ANA Inspiration in 2017. Another final round fracas in a major ensued as it was only during the final six holes on Sunday that she was informed she was being handed a 4-stroke penalty as a result of her actions the previous day – two for the incorrect replacement and two for subsequently signing for a lower score than she had.
A viewer had called in a day late and the relevant video footage was scrutinised. This moved Lexi from holding a 3-shot lead to being one behind with six to play. She forced a play-off with So Yeon Ryu but lost at the first extra hole. There was an outpouring of support for Lexi from many quarters, including Tiger Woods and other touring pros, and generally dismissive contempt for the viewer who called in.
But, what seemed to me to be overlooked in all the goings-on was that Lexi DID break a rule. End of story. It wasn’t the fault of the viewer who rang in – or the officials. Under the rules at that time, matters had to be investigated, which they were, and the correct action was taken. It IS important to protect the rest of the field. The recent rules changes now mean that no credence is given to viewers ringing in – the tournaments now have a designated official watching the TV pictures. Neither can you have another penalty lobbed on top of a first one. Both good changes.
It is a sad fact that over the years the relationship between the United States Golf Association (USGA) and the professional golf tours in America has dwindled. Even Ernie Els, the affable South African, cannot contain his ire at the course set-ups produced on an annual basis by the USGA. “Almost every single time they get ahold of a golf course, they absolutely destroy it. Chambers Bay? I mean, you can just go on and on. They have taken some of the most iconic golf courses and absolutely destroyed them.”
Add to that that only a couple of weeks ago the USGA declared themselves satisfied with the rolling out of the rules changes and it’s easy to see, therefore why confidence in them is at an all-time low. Martin Slumbers, chief executive of the R&A, had the good sense to admit that it hadn’t been as straightforward as he had hoped and that they had a few things to work out.
Many PGA Tour players are openly ridiculing the new rules on social media and firmly laying the blame at the door of the USGA. Don’t get me started on the Justin Thomas debacle. Of course, everyone is entitled to their grievances and opinions but golf risks losing the moral high ground it has enjoyed over other sports for so long. It IS important how you interact with others and put over your complaints and concerns. Descending to mudslinging on social media sites risks highlighting the “me, me, me” world of professional sport and alienating the fans who are largely responsible for the players being able to compete for so much dosh.
The players have justifiable concerns but it is very important they also take a long hard look at themselves. Phil Mickelson let himself, and his professional colleagues, down with his ridiculous display of hitting a moving ball on one of the greens at Shinnecock Hills in last year’s US Open. It was his way of drawing attention to the fact that the course set up was over the top. Not very classy, Phil.
We’ve witnessed appalling behaviour from both Sergio and Bryson DeChambeau smashing clubs into putting surfaces and damaging them badly. Great role models, eh? At least, Sergio was disqualified – well done the European Tour.
Does Rickie Fowler really need to simulate a drop from knee high from below his rear end (see pic at top of piece)? Andrew Landry eruditely called the rules “garbage” and Patton Kizzire called them “asinine”.
Is it any wonder that there is a spreading feeling amongst many golf fans that these players are pampered, spoilt prima donnas? The rules are not simply for them, they are for all of us and we want our professional players to display integrity and respect for the game that is undoubtedly bigger than us all.
Abide by the rules or work to change them. Enough of playground behaviour. Golf is better than that and deserves better from those playing it and running it.
And don’t even mention that dreadful so-called “match” between Mickelson and Woods for an obscene amount of money.
Where, oh where, is golf going?
Come on game, get a grip.
It’s hard to believe but this will be the last blog from South Africa, where we’ve started to see clouds and even rain as the locals move from summer into autumn and tease us that they’re getting us into training for going home.
Fortunately, on Wednesday we got our timing right and headed for Table Mountain on a clear day (see pic above). I’ll spare you the gory details of the drive in to Cape Town from Franschhoek, suffice it to say that the driving here is anarchic and if there are any rules, apart from no holds barred, I’ve yet to grasp them. The drivers are bad enough but you then have to factor in pedestrians, cyclists and motorbikers who make things up as they go along and give us newbies the heebie jeebies as we rack up the near misses and cardiac arrests. No wonder Christian Barnard, the heart transplant pioneer, born in the Karoo, operated here.
You need a stout heart and strong legs to climb Table Mountain, which towers over the city, giving views that make even the rush hour gridlock palatable and we had two people who were up to the task. Brian, Maureen’s husband, is an old hand at this particular game and he led Gillian Stewart, inveterate of Inverness, a multi Munros bagger back home in Scotland, to her first ascent.
Pam Valentine, the former Wales international who is heading home to become ladies’ captain at Wrexham, decided that the cable car was the sensible route to the top and I agreed. There’s a squats machine at the gym near the house but developing the leg power to climb Table Mountain probably needs a bit more than looking at said machine and pondering how exactly it works.
Going up on the cable car with its revolving floor may seem like cheating but it’s fantastic in its own right and there’s a definite wow, wow factor as you hit the top, where you could spend all day and not run out of things to see and learn. We did a bit of abseiling, hang gliding and mooching while waiting for the climbers……
Anyway, Pam and I had already had a busy week having driven to Hermanus and on to the Cape of Good Hope on Monday and played golf at Metropolitan, slap bang in the middle of Cape Town, on Tuesday.
It was a murky old day for most of Monday and it was hard to tell the sky from the sea at Hermanus, so we called in at the golf club, a proper, old-fashioned sort of place that was hiving despite the persistent drizzle. Pam and I both made slightly daring purchases, helping to keep Annika in the style to which she has become accustomed.
The next day, at Metropolitan, a 9-hole course that is a bit more than that, Pam, Gill and I were guests of Tegwen Matthews, capped numerous times by Wales and GB and I and now resident in South Africa. Wales managed an honourable half with the northern Celts thanks to Teg’s majestic near 2 at the last, an intimidating par 3 guarded by water and bunkers. Though how anyone of her calibre can be playing off 7 and getting a shot is beyond me!
Sadly, frustratingly, Maureen’s back prevented her from travelling down let alone playing, which was a shame because she, Teg and Gill had last played together for GB in the Commonwealth Tournament at Lake Karrinyup in Perth (Australia) back in the early 1980s. Young though we look, Teg, Pam and I had all played in the junior home internationals at North Berwick in – wait for it – 1971. Gill’s a bit younger, so didn’t play for Scotland until later.
The others trained on to bigger and better things but the great thing is that we’re all still playing and enjoying our golf in beautiful places. Whenever Mo and I get irritated with the game and its foibles and failings, we remind ourselves of all the friends we’ve made and the fun we’ve had and remember that the game itself is not to blame.
Finally, to mark the end of our South African adventure, I’ll share my paddle at the Cape of Good Hope, the most south-westerly point in Africa, not quite where the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans meet but near enough. I had the clubs with me but it was dark by the time we got to the nearest golf course.