Ryan Brooks, a former club champion at Whittington Heath, who has hopes of making it to European Tour School, had a hole-in-one at our 4th hole yesterday but it was not just any old hole-in-one; it was hard-earned, taking as it did nearly a day of unremitting toil.
Remember the agonies of Edoardo Molinari, brother of Francesco, the Open champion, when he was given 500 goes to achieve a hole-in-one and failed? Edoardo hit the pin at least once and came agonisingly close on several other occasions but he didn’t make it and at the end collapsed flat on his back on the tee. It’s well worth a look on YouTube. Apparently the odds on a professional golfer scoring a hole-in-one are 2,500 to 1, so they are relatively rare beasts and feted accordingly.
They’re flukey things, holes-in-one, arguably revered above and beyond what they deserve and last week I had them trumping a 59, still a rare score at the top level. Triple acer Ali Gibb was on Woman’s Hour this week, interviewed by the sainted Jenni Murray, who has no clue about golf but ventured out of the studio to mark Ali’s unique feat – three holes-in-one in 36 holes, on the same day, on a proper golf course. She’s now renowned throughout the golfing world (Ali not Jenni, who remains steadfastly untouched by the game: “Chips? I thought you were going to give me a lesson, not lunch……”)
Ryan may not reach the heights of a Woman’s Hour feature but his was a monumental feat nonetheless. He holed out with his 716th shot (roughly 10 rounds worth) and was out there beating balls for six hours and eight minutes. The 4th measures 172 yards from the white tees and he teed off just in front of them, using a mat to save tearing up the turf. His club of choice was “a soft 8-iron”.I was there for shot No 700 and Ryan had a nice rhythm going, pausing only to let members and visitors play through. If only I’d stayed a little longer!
Ryan took centre stage because the Pros’ Charity Challenge, an annual feat of endurance and record breaking undertaken for the captains’ charity, had to be postponed because Mike Raj, our head pro, was poorly. He and Dan Whitby-Smith were to spend 12 hours – from 0730 to 1930 – playing the course, on foot, with only one club each. They’d both decided on a 7-iron but, who knows, that could be subject to change now that they have more time to think. Why on earth are they attempting this? Well, they’re both lovely men if completely daft and every year they rack their brains to come up with something suitably demanding to boost the charity coffers and leave them on their knees. It’s The Alzheimer’s Society this year.
Last Sunday, we had a charity cricket match at Tamworth Cricket, Hockey and Squash Club, a ground usually graced by more skilled performers than some of us on view. We did have proper cricketers on each side but they had to dumb down for the women who had never learned to play and the children who were just starting. At least it meant that I was bowled at underarm, with a soft ball, so did not have to wear pads (have you ever tried walking in pads, let alone running in them?) Somehow I scored 7 runs and managed to avoid doing much in the field other than retrieving the ball (a proper, hard, red cricket ball) from the hedge. I hadn’t appreciated that you’d have real trouble playing cricket if you were colour-blind. Aren’t red and green the colours that cause the most problems?
Anyway, somehow, despite having only eight players in the field, we managed to win and Karen Crarer, the ladies’ captain, received the trophy from Mike Raj.
I suppose I’d better explain the lovely image at the top of the blog. It’s to celebrate my most exciting moment of the week – I know, I know: Get A Life……..I came home yesterday to find an intriguing parcel in the postbox. What on earth had I been sending for? Aren’t I meant to be saving up for some long-haul trips and limiting my non-essential spending? Well, I removed the packaging, put it in the recycling (I would have inserted that annoying emoji with the halo but couldn’t work out how to do it on this machine) and screeched with joy. There was a slim, dark navy blue tin with the Spurs logo on it and not a Nike swish in sight, thank goodness. There are few things I like better than a good tin and this one has a picture of our new stadium on the inside of the lid, oh dreams of glory, glory days ahead!
Just one last word, about Tiger versus Phil in Las Vegas in November. Why? No, don’t even try to explain or justify it. My first last word was Yuk. And I think that’ll do. I double checked that it’s a bona fide word, in the dictionary, so that’s me expressing extreme distaste or disgust and total disinterest. And that really will be my last word on the matter.
I never thought it possible for Tiger to get back to the level where he would genuinely compete again in majors. At best I thought he might possibly have a decent run in one or two smaller events. I never dreamt he would be the king of the course again, as he was this last week at the USPGA at Bellerive. I never doubted him mentally. I just thought it would be beyond him physically. When will I learn? Never say never.
When I first started working in the States in 2006, I did dozens of Tiger’s rounds. I spent hours inside the ropes with him seeing what he had to deal with – the constant movement of thousands of fans wanting to touch him, make eye contact with him and the energetic rush, rush, rush to get in place to actually see him play. His office was not a place of peace or calm tranquillity. I didn’t like him much back then. I always loved his golf game, but I too often witnessed his scornful treatment of good people, sound professional journalists. Scorn is a terrible thing. I interviewed him many times and he looked at you with barely concealed impatience (this was radio so no need to look interested) and it was obvious he was wishing to be elsewhere. Fast forward a dozen years and the landscape of golf has changed quite considerably. He has bred this new generation of young, strong, fearless golfers who can, now, occasionally, play like he used to all the time. And, if anything, things have intensified even for him out on the course. The roped-off corridors leading from green to tee are wider now to accommodate a forest of outstretched arms on each side all begging for a low five from their hero and in front of the thousands of faces are little black oblong screens – mobile phones are allowed on the courses now – snapping endless photos so that the owners can say, ” You remember Tiger finishing runner-up at Bellerive? Well, I was there!”
Tiger, too, has changed – at least for the moment. Let’s see if it lasts. He has been on somewhat of a charm offensive on this latest comeback trail and there is a more mannerly edition in front of us now. In the first round last week he opened with a truly remarkable level par 70. I had wandered out to the range around 6.30 in the morning to see him warming up. I was taken aback – he looked knackered and was already resting considerably between shots as the steamy temperatures were beginning to rise. Then he started double bogey, bogey – 3 over after 2 – and he wasn’t moving well. What transpired over the next four hours is one of the greatest exhibitions I’ve ever seen of playing the game. It is an immense privilege to see a person pour every ounce of themselves into a task. He played as if each stroke were his last, pouring in gallons of pure concentrated effort and focus. They didn’t all work out – this was not Tiger at his imperious, ball-striking best. He never looked back, though, just forward, just putting one foot in front of the other. As the temperatures soared to the high 90s (Fahrenheit) and with the humidity rising (he changed shirts as many as three times) he clawed his way back, ultimately signing off with that level par score.
“Boy, that was a grind,” he said to me in response to my first interview question. He was absolutely spent but he engaged with all his interviewers in a way that was new to me. He looked at you as if you were a proper person and not just an inconvenience to him. He was engaged and thoughtful in his answers.
By the end of the week he was the story of the week. He didn’t win but the rock-star adulation and massive, massive crowds were for him and him alone. As he strode from the final green across the elevated walkway to the recording area the chants of “Let’s go, Tiger, let’s go” rang out. He turned and gave them a thumbs up. It’s a thumbs up from me for Tiger, too.
Who? Ricky is Brooks Koepka’s Northern Irish caddy and the pair of them celebrated their fifth anniversary of working together last weekend by winning the 100th USPGA Championship. Brooks has won three of the last seven majors and Ricky has been on the bag for each victory. A talented player himself Ricky played college golf for the University of Toledo in Ohio after winning the Ulster Boys’ and Ulster Youths’ Championships back at home. He dabbled a bit on mini-tours after turning pro but has found his niche as the bagman for the man currently playing the best golf in the world. He hails from Portrush and still has family there – his parents live there – and his brother has a golf shop in Coleraine. No shortage of a bed then when the Open rolls into town next July. After his US Open win at Shinnecock in June I told Brooks that we all considered his win another notch on the Irish major list. He seemed to find that hilarious – I don’t think he realised I wasn’t joking. Now we have another to add to the list. Rock on Ricky.
Scott was in the final pairing on the last day and it was the first time for a long time that I had been assigned to one of his groups. With only one top ten finish to his name for the season the tall Aussie with the elegant swing has remained unfailingly courteous and classy despite his ongoing on-course travails. The week was very difficult for him with the news that his friend and fellow Australian professional, Jarrod Lyle, had died from leukemia at the age of 36. It was uplifting to see him back in contention at the sharp end of a major and see his game stand up to the rigours of final round pressure. I look forward to watching him make his way back up the world rankings.
I bumped in to Denis at the crack of dawn on Saturday morning as we were walking out to our starting points on the course for the resumption of play after thunderstorms had curtailed activities on the Friday. I was continuing my second round coverage of Rory, Tiger and Justin Thomas and Denis was on his way to continue following one of the players he coaches, namely, the new Open champion, Francesco Molinari. Denis has coached Francesco for years and I was thrilled to get the opportunity to congratulate him in person for what must surely be the pinnacle of his coaching career. He revealed that once the final round at Carnoustie started he got in the car for the long drive home. At the point that his charge won the Claret Jug Denis was filling up with petrol at a service station. He then sat down to enjoy a tuna baguette to give himself a moment to gather himself together before continuing his journey. A few days later he joined Francesco and his family in the Bahamas for a few days and had a real celebration. That night as he was tottering off to bed he asked the new champion where he was going to leave the trophy overnight. “You take it to your room for the night,” said Francesco. “And that,” said Denis triumphantly, “is how I got to sleep with the Claret Jug!”
I’m sure the dreams were sweet, Denis.
I see that the lovely Brandt Snedeker (the computer nearly slipped in the surname Sneaker) has had a 59 in the first round of the Wyndham Championship at Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, North Carolina. Well done him.
He holed a 20-foot putt at his last hole (the 9th) to hit the magic mark, to finish 11 under par. I have to admit that when I switched on the telly yesterday afternoon to have a look at the golf (NOW tv is doing one of its Sky Sports deals, so I was tempted in), I noticed that Snedeker, who was on the 9th hole, had a wee (-10) by his name. That can’t be right I thought, it must be something to do with his place in the FedEx Cup standings or some such esoteric thing. Even though one of his playing partners then had (E), for even, beside his name, I dismissed it and switched off! More fool me but at least I can console myself with the thought that I really was there, on the golf course, in person, when Annika Sorenstam had her 59 at Moon Valley, in Phoenix, Arizona, all those years ago. Snedeker has joined a distinguished and not all that long list on the PGA Tour but Annika is still up there (or down there) on her own on the LPGA.
Still, pride of place this week must go to Ali Gibb, a 51-year old, six-handicap member of Croham Hurst GC in South Croydon, Surrey. Last Tuesday, she became the club champion for the umpteenth time but, remarkably, in her 36 holes, she recorded THREE holes-in-one. That’s right, she HOLED IN ONE THREE TIMES in two rounds, twice at the 5th, 127 yards and once at the 11th, 160 yards.
Ali described the day as “weird….very, very strange.” She finished her first round with a 9, started her second round with an 8 and in the course of the day had every number from 1 (THREE TIMES!) to 9. “Our pro Adam [Aram] came up to me and said, ‘I’ve had one hole-in-one in 42 years, you’ve just had three in five hours.”
Well done Ali on the golfing achievement of the week.Congrats also to Iceland, who won the mixed team event in the European Championships on the PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles. Vladis Thora Jonsdottir, Birgir Hafthorsson, Olafia Kristinsdottir and Axel Boasson were the gold medallists, a shot ahead of the Great Britain 3 quartet of Meghan MacLaren, Liam Johnston, Michele Thomson and Connor Syme. The men’s gold was won by Pedro Oriol and Scott Fernandez of Spain and the women’s by Sweden’s Linda Wessberg and Cajsa Persson.
I watched a little bit of the Gleneagles golf, behind the BBC’s red button, because the main channels were devoted to the athletics, swimming, diving, cycling, all of which featured world-class performers. Golf’s main men and women were mostly elsewhere but I didn’t see too much of the USPGA either because we couldn’t get it on big telly. (I believe even those who are good with cables, streaming and the like also had difficulties.)On the wild west coast of Ireland, at Ballybunion, Scotland won the women’s home internationals – I remember them looking good, if a little inexperienced, at Little Aston last year when Ireland won – and England won the girls’ internationals. Further east, at Whittington Heath GC and probably a tad lower down the golfing scale, the mixed open was won by Darren Hall and Helena Rean, who is such an Aston Villa fanatic that she has it written into her contract that football takes precedence over EVERYTHING. To look at her, she looks quite sane and sensible….. Not that I’m upset that my partner and I were pipped by a point……
I don’t know if Renee Powell and Katharine Whitehorn, two formidable women from different spheres, have met yet but they’re about to be immortalised at the home of golf by the University of St Andrews, founded in 1413, which is giving them a hall of residence each. Renee Powell Hall, 205 rooms and Whitehorn Hall, 184 rooms, are due to open in October. Powell was given an honorary degree by the university in 2008 and in 2015 she became one of the first female members of the R&A. She was the second African American to play on the LPGA tour and is now a renowned teacher, specialising not just in golf but in life.Whitehorn, a CBE and giant of journalism, is a graduate of Newnham College, Cambridge and was elected (by the students) rector of the University of St Andrews in 1982, the first woman to hold the post. I nearly spoke to her once when I spotted her at a Women In Journalism get-together but my courage (always in short supply) failed me. After all, would she really want some gibbering eejit stuttering, “You’re Katharine Whitehorn. I think you’re wonderful, an inspiration. And Cooking In A Bedsit helped me through uni.” No wonder I bottled it.
But Cooking In A Bedsit, a small, battered, bespattered paperback that has departed this world (or at least my copy has), was a lifesaver, wherever it may rank in the great woman’s oeuvre.
Finally, I couldn’t resist using this photo for its sheer, unadulterated joy. The golf at the European Championships may have been a bit low key for most of us but it really mattered to those taking part. And that’s what counts.