Writing this blog every week requires rare commitment, dedication and professionalism, as Mo will tell you – and more often than not a dose of The Proclaimers at full blast. In this corner those qualities are proving rarer than ever after a day at the races, supping champagne in the sun and losing money on Gold Cup day at Royal Ascot. The glad rags were rooted out, the hats recovered from their boxes in the attic, the Prada sandals, a little careworn now but still my most impressive footwear, removed reverentially from their bag.
Those sandals have been a lifesaver ever since I bought them in a sale goodness knows how many years ago. I was meeting Dai in London and was early for once, so filled in time by browsing in Selfridges, where I gravitated to the shoe department, thinking I’d be safe with my big, slightly misshapen feet. I rarely ever look at anything Italian because it’s too depressing. They don’t do big people. However, by some miracle I found an exception to this rule and not only did the sandals fit, they were so comfortable that even I could walk in them. I looked at the price tag and hesitated – but not for long. After all, if questioned, I could honestly say I’d bought them in a sale and I’m pretty sure Dai wouldn’t have known his Prada from his Primark.
Those shoes repaid me countless times. From the moment I bought them I packed them first in the bottom of my bag, alongside the waterproofs and the thermal underwear. Every time I wore them, whatever else I had on, I felt a million dollars; whatever the do, however grand the company, I stood taller – unless I was sinking into a lawn or catching a heel in ill-designed decking. Minor mishaps in a lifetime of service. Mille grazie Milano.
I should add that my Ascot day took place in Staffordshire, with friends just up the road from home and it was brill. We were regally fed and watered and repaired to the gorgeous garden between races and I think my losses amounted to a mere £3, despite my picks being unplaced in all but the first race. That’s when I made the sensible decision to plump for the combo of Ryan Moore and Aidan O’Brien but even they’re not infallible and came in a valiant 3rd. Carrying my money is not a recipe for success and I now only bet on a golfer if I want him to miss the cut – which in practice means I don’t bet at all on golf because even I’m not that mean-spirited.
There are two golfers I’d like to mention this week. Not the now double US Open champ Brooks Koepka (still known as Bruce to my computer if left to its own devices); not the would-be US Open champ Phil Mickelson, who made one of the worst decisions of his golfing life at Shinnecock Hills (see Maureen’s post for more details); not Susan Sims, the in-form Scot who had a nett 66 to win WHGC’s Centenary Trophy by miles on Tuesday; not even Leona Maguire, who’s making an encouraging start to her professional career; nor Sara Byrne, of Douglas, who won the Irish Women’s Amateur Close title in brutal weather at Enniscrone, emulating her club mate Eavan Higgins, who won the title 25 years ago (seems like only yesterday to some of us Eavan!)
No, I’m giving pride of place to Tom Alford and Peter Thomson. Tom, 17, a member at Branston Golf and Country Club (and Whittington Heath), won the Staffordshire Boys’ Championship at Barlaston last Sunday by 12 shots with rounds of 67 and 69. He gets a mention because I was playing a club match against his mother Carol at the time (his sister Rachel Emma was also playing and the youthfulness of the Branston team made us Heathens feel pretty ancient but I digress). The match, a scratch B affair, ended in an honourable draw 2 1/2 – 2 1/2 and we toasted Tom’s success in tea and G and T.
Peter, 88, who died at home in Melbourne earlier this week, was a lovely, generous, erudite man who gave Australians – and golfers – a good name. He won the Open Championship five times – only Harry Vardon has won it more often – in 1954, 1955, 1956, 1958 and 1965. No, I have not mis-typed, that’s three years in a row, four years out of five – and in 1957, at St Andrews, he was runner-up, three strokes behind Bobby Locke. That was the year that Locke marked his ball on the last green and mistakenly put it back in the wrong place.
Peter Thomson won the claret jug for the first time at Royal Birkdale and that same year Doug Bachli, a fellow member of Victoria, one of Melbourne’s famed sandbelt courses, won the Amateur Championship. Apparently no one thought to commemorate that outstanding achievement by taking a photograph of the two men together with their trophies! They’re sometimes a laid-back lot these Aussies.
Ben Hogan won the Open at Carnoustie in 1953 – Thomson shared second place, four strokes behind, with Dai Rees, Antonio Cerda and Frank Stranahan, an amateur – but in the 1950s the Americans were mostly conspicuous by their absence and tended to downplay Thomson’s dominance. They had to revise their opinion when he won at Birkdale again, in 1965, with Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tony Lema, the defending champion, in the field.
In The Guardian Pat Ward-Thomas wrote: [Thomson]….achieved the supreme performance of his golfing lifetime……His total of 285 (74, 68, 72, 71) was two strokes ahead of [Brian] Huggett and [Christy] O’Connor who sustained a magnificent challenge to the very end, while all the great Americans, save Lema, were nowhere…….It was a surpassing triumph for one of the purest swings that golf has ever known, a technique that has few peers in British conditions, a remarkable golfing intelligence, an assurance and composure of manner that have become such a familiar part of the golfing scene in this land for a decade and more….”
The game was his life but there was a lot more to Peter than just golf and it’s worth reading the obits to get a sense of his influence, not just in Australia but all over Asia.
“I had a very joyful time,” he said, “playing a game that I loved for the sheer pleasure of it. I don’t think I did a real day’s work in the whole of my life.”
That’s the beauty of doing something you love for a living. It never feels like work.
Talking of joy and fun, if you’re in Lichfield this morning, come and sing with the Social Singers in the precinct from 1030-1200. The programme includes classics like How Much Is That Doggie, Oklahoma and, heaven help me, Swing Low (in my defence, it didn’t start life as England’s rugby anthem).