The first thing I ever saw at the pictures was The Sound of Music. So, there I am, dating myself immediately, both by the film and by the use of the word “pictures”. I’ve seen it four times at the cinema and countless times, usually at Christmas, on the telly. Anyway, one of the songs I loved best of all was “My Favourite Things” and as we wend our way to the end of another year’s worth of golf I thought I’d look back at one or two of MY favourite things golf-wise that have happened in 2017.
Let’s start with Anna Nordqvist, the tall, imposing, elegant Swede. Last year her handling of the 2-shot penalty she incurred touching a grain of sand in a bunker on her backswing in the final stages of the 2016 US Women’s Open won her a legion of fans. The insensitive timing of the delivery of the decision was met with grace and class. So, along with many others I suspect, I was jumping up and down when she weathered the awful conditions to win her second major at this year’s Evian Masters. This was after suffering from glandular fever and being some distance from her physical peak.
And my personal shot-of-the year award must also go to Anna – that stunning 8-iron she hit stone dead on the last to halve the top Solheim Cup singles match against American star Lexi Thompson. It was one of the Solheim Cup classic matches with a finish worthy of both combatants.
I’m casting my mind back now to May 2008 and The Players’ Championship at TPC Sawgrass, Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. I was working for radio but was finding time to catch up with some old pals, namely Mark Fulcher, who had spent many years caddying on our tour – not for me, I hasten to add. He had far too much sense for that! It was Mark’s first week on the bag of fellow Englishman Justin Rose, something we both recognised as being potentially an enormously good break for him. I remember saying to him that this could turn out to be a very long-term, good bag for him. He agreed. Left hanging in the air was the unspoken advice, “Don’t stuff it up!” It was an inauspicious start. A first round 78 was followed by 73 and an early exit and I feared for my friend.
I needn’t have worried. The next time they teed it up, in Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial tournament, they finished tied second and were off and running as a partnership. Nine years on they are going from strength to strength with a major championship and an Olympic gold medal tucked away and only last Sunday they completed the second of two victories over an amazing 11-day stretch. The first was a World Golf Championship event in which Rose made up an 8-shot deficit on world No 1 Dustin Johnson. Then, last Sunday, Rose birdied the 72nd hole to snatch the Turkish Airlines Open, one of the European Tour’s mega Rolex Series events. Who says nice guys don’t win?
One of my great pleasures and privileges in life is to follow golfers from the very start of their careers and see them achieve greatness. Fifteen months ago I hadn’t met Aditi Ashok but that changed when I bumped into her and her parents during a practice round at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Woburn. Aditi had fallen in love with the game at the age of 5 when she spotted a driving range across the road from a restaurant she and her parents were visiting near their home in Bangalore. They subsequently went to the range and that was more or less it. Woburn was the first ever major for the Ladies’ European Tour rookie and I walked a few holes with her.
Patricia keeps telling me, “nothing weighs you down like great potential” and, as we have both seen many sure-fire successes never coming alight, I have learned to bide my time when sussing out the next great thing. A missed cut at Woburn was disappointing but lessons were learned and invaluable experience gained. Then last November Aditi became the first Indian winner on the LET, winning on home soil and following it up with victory the following week in Qatar, easily clinching Rookie of the Year honours.
In 2017 she has cut her teeth in the US and last Sunday she chalked up a win in Abu Dhabi, her third victory in twelve months. A trail-blazing, joyful character who replies to all tweets of congratulations individually (how long can she keep that up?!) is on her way to who knows where? I, for one, will enjoy watching her journey and will continue to be delighted and reassured that our sport can capture the imagination of a young girl like Aditi despite the various problems golf is allegedly facing in the 21st century.
Finally, think back to April. The Masters. Augusta. Sergio. What combination of words could be better suited to creating a warm, fuzzy feeling inside? The tremendous play-off tussle with Justin Rose; the luxury of not really minding who won; the compulsive watching to see if Sergio could, indeed, lay his various demons to rest; his burying his face in his hands at the end; the classy way fiancee Angela Akins gave him his solo moment, then came forward to congratulate him before melting away again; and, yes, it would have been Seve’s 60th birthday! It is undoubtedly the pinnacle of Sergio’s career so far.
I was there in 1999 when he finished runner-up to Tiger in the PGA, fashioning that miraculous shot out from the roots of a tree and then skipping and bouncing up the fairway to see where it finished. When he failed to win that major, the concensus of opinion was not to worry – he’d lots of time. Sport, and life, doesn’t work like that. You have to grab your opportunities when you can and watching Sergio slip into the green jacket 18 years later has most definitely been one of my favourite things.
Now, when are the Christmas TV listings coming out? I feel the need to watch The Sound of Music again.