Experiencing frosts, hail and copious rain here in the UK made it all the more heart-warming to witness last week’s golf from North Carolina and Florida. Not only did we get to enjoy the sight of sundrenched courses, we were also able to get wrapped up in Rory’s first win for eighteen months as well as in the high drama of the 48th Walker Cup at oh-so-scary Seminole.
Let’s start with the Walker Cup – or Walkover Cup – as some rather unkind journalists dubbed it. The GB&I team, so ably captained by Stuart Wilson, was not given much of a prayer by many commentators, but no one seemed to have told the away team that they weren’t supposed to be able to contend with the powerful, high-ranked American side. With both teams ravaged by sickness and reserves having to be called into play, this became a war of attrition for the contestants in what will surely be remembered as the most physically and mentally demanding match in the series.
Seminole in its awful loveliness was a PhD of an examination paper with absolute precision required to hit and hold putting surfaces reputed to be running at 14 on the stimp. At least at Augusta National you can often hold the heavily sectioned greens – you just won’t be that near the pin; but at Seminole you could be swept away into a treacherous bunker from which, sometimes, there was no escape. It was riveting stuff and mentally challenging as a viewer, never mind a player. It was awe-inspiring to see these amateur players cope with all that was thrown at them and the 14-12 scoreline in favour of the US side was indicative of just how good a tussle it was.It was also refreshing to have a high level match that is definitely a sprint and not a marathon, as the rest of the top events tend to be and the pace of play, particularly from the players from this side of the Atlantic, was a joy. I suppose it was unfortunate that the very first shot I saw of the whole contest was a poor bunker shot by an American player. His reaction was to spit on the ground, hence he was referred to in this household from that point on as “the spitter”. Ah well, I suppose if the No 1 ranked player in the world is unchecked in that behaviour we must expect others to follow suit. I wish they wouldn’t though.
A little further north on the US eastern seaboard is the lovely and challenging Quail Hollow golf course in Charlotte, North Carolina, an opinion obviously shared by Rory McIlroy who notched up his third victory there on Sunday. He loves the place but what he learned was that he loves, and needs, the noise and vibe of the spectators more than he realised. Expect his post-pandemic performances to be much improved.
“I thought I’d like the peace and quiet when we returned but I missed the crowds,” he said. “I feed off the energy so much. I’m certainly glad that the crowds were back and I’m glad that I was able to get the job done in an atmosphere like that today. And I’m excited going forward now that we get to play in front of crowds like that. It was just an awesome experience to feel that again over the weekend.”Pete Cowen, with whom Rory is now working, has made an immediate impact, encouraging a change of shot shape off the tee from a draw to a power fade. It’ll take a while to bed down but validation of the work they are doing together will be a tremendous tonic for the Irishman and his trademark jaunty step is back out there on display for all to see. Nice timing with three majors coming up in the next eight weeks or so.
News comes that the first of those majors, the PGA Championship, which is played over Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course and where Rory notched up one of his four major victories, will be a stern test of 7876 yards. That is the longest course in major championship history and it makes me wonder where it’ll all end. Seemingly the major defence against equipment that allows players in their 70s like Tom Watson to continue hitting the ball as far as when in his prime is to build greens with an abundance of sections and slopes and then shave them to within an inch of their lives. That sort of approach necessitates skill in two departments alone – sheer brute force for driving and silky skills around the green. We are in danger of completely losing the nuances of shot-making through the bag. Varying trajectories, shaping the ball, half and three quarter shots are all in the endangered species category nowadays and the game is not improved because of it. Somebody, please DO something!
It looks like my sorties to the US for the men’s majors are a non-starter for the second consecutive year but hope springs eternal that the Ryder Cup may signal a return of normal duties. We shall see, but in the meantime I’m happy to unashamedly cheer my favourites on from the sidelines without the slightest responsibility to impartiality. Good to know that some clouds do have a silver lining.