Thursday, 1 December 2011

The View From The (Very) Cheap Seat

For the armchair golf fan it has been another full on season. For those of us who bow down to the Murdoch dollar we've had a Summer of almost weekly action on both the European and US Tours along with the majors and the Solheim Cup. The good old BBC were on hand to provide us with their usual high class Open coverage and to give us a thrilling home win in the Walker Cup.

As I sit here on my favourite chair, cup of tea in one hand and remote in the other what was it like for us the viewing public. The majors were certainly action packed and anyone successfully picking all four winners is more than likely relaxing somewhere significantly warmer and worrying about which yacht to take out of the harbour tomorrow.

Augusta to me always represents the start of the golfing season. The clocks have just changed, my course is beginning to awaken from Winter and I look forward with a clean slate to handicap cuts, monthly medal wins and lots and lots of golf. Of course somewhere along the line expectation and fulfilment become blurred and don't always meet in a happy marriage. At Augusta in April, Rory McIlroy demonstrated that expectation, especially in a major, especially for such a young man doesn't mean it's a done deal. It was car crash viewing watching him in the last round of the Masters.. You couldn't believe how a man so in control for three days and with the field at his mercy could disintegrate and become almost unable to get the ball in the hole.

A last round no-one could have imagined.
With Rory slipping back there was still a Major up for grabs. Many got themselves into contention but Charl Schwartzel was the man to deliver a finish of immense skill and courage. His 66 was the low round of the day and his two shot margin of victory was crafted by birdieing the last four holes.

Schwartzel enjoys his first major success
The next major was the US Open played at the fearsome Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland between June 16th and 19th. Again, the armchair fan in Britain could follow the action on TV and again it proved to be unmissable viewing. There were many, myself included, who had tweeted, written and commented on phone ins, chat rooms and talk shows that McIlroy would take time to recover from the scars of Augusta. He took precisely one round at Congressional and led after day one with a stunning six under par 65. No need to watch from between the fingers in front of your face for this one.

McIlroy was a tour de force throughout and by the start of the final round had an 8 shot lead over Y.E. Yang. Even though this was an even bigger lead than he took into the last round at Augusta I was still worried for the young man but his birdie at the 1st calmed my nerves and I could enjoy copious amounts of tea and biscuits throughout the evening as he strolled to a imperious eight shot victory.

No last round meltdown this time
Called me a sentimental old fool but there is nothing better for the armchair fan that the Open and the velvet tones of Peter Alliss on the BBC. He is a true icon and although there are those that suggest he is past his prime, to me he is the voice of golf and I'd love him to carry on and on. Like others such as O'Sullivan (horse racing) Walker (motor racing) Maskell (tennis) Pickering (athletics) Carpenter (boxing) and Arlott (cricket) he is the epitome of the sport they covered particularly on the BBC. Maybe there is something in this sentimentality lark though as the winner in that far flung corner of Kent was truly a People's Champion.

Darren Clarke has always had a popular place in the hearts of golf fans throughout his career. He has always seemingly liked the odd pint, smoked the odd fag and generally played golf with a smile. However when he lost his wife Heather to the demon that is cancer and then played a few weeks later in the Ryder Cup he cemented himself in the psyche of the golfing fraternity. His career has dipped in recent years but towards the end of 2010 and early in 2011 there were signs that a settled family life and a fresh enthusiasm for the game were bringing him back to form.

Even so it, very few expected to see his name on the Claret Jug come Sunday evening. It had been a compelling four days. Thomas Bjorn had returned to the course where he so nearly won in 2003 and featured prominently throughout but again came up short. The game of golf saw the emergence of another home grown talent in the shape of Tom Lewis who played alongside Tom Watson in the opening round and carded a 65 to lead with Bjorn after day one.

However it was Saturday that perhaps had everything for the viewer. The weather took a turn for the worse with heavy rain and strong winds making conditions hazardous. It certainly made some of us feel better to see the top players finding it as tough as we do in our monthly medal in such weather.

The weather in the final round was much better although the wind meant that scoring would be tough and control of the ball was a must. Clarke had moved through the field to sit on top of the leaderboard, just ahead of Dustin Johnson of America.

It was a fascinating final round. Phil Mickleson made a mockery of the conditions to charge to the turn in 30 but his bid for glory was to stall on the closing stretch. It was becoming a two horse race between Clarke and Johnson but when the American tried to go for the green in two on the par 5 14th he hit a horror shot out of bounds which cost a double bogey and gave Clarke a 4 shot lead. In the end the Ulsterman cruised to victory by three shots.

Definitely one for the people
It was certainly a popular win not only for golf fans across the world but within the game too. It was certainly a long night and Clarke was featured in the press the following day having partied all night but still looking remarkably good on it. A great winner, with Peter Alliss providing the perfect words on a perfect outcome.

The last major, the USPGA is regarded by many as the poor relation compared to the others. Certainly it doesn't seem to have the panache in the UK that the others do. Maybe its because we're not as au fait with its history I don't know. Either way, its the last chance of the season for us to find that comfy spot on the settee and settle down to some high class golf into the small hours.

For those who who view this event boring, the joke’s on you. Yes, for the casual fan, this looked like the Blueberry Hill Monthly Medal for a while but by the end of Sunday, it was one of the most exciting majors of the year. For starters, it wasn’t Keegan Bradley and Jason Dufner’s fault that they were the last men standing. The strongest field in golf teed off on Thursday, including the likes of Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and 100 of the top 102 in the World Golf Ranking. This had a bit of everything from Rory Wrist to Tiger Rap. For McIlroy, his tournament was effectively over on the 3rd hole of round one when he hit a tree root and injured his wrist. In fact he arguably came within a three-inch root of ruining the most promising career in the game,

Then there was Tiger, and the bizarre showing he made hitting one crooked shot after another. He hit 22 bunkers, 11 fairway and 11 greenside in two rounds and only saved par from the sand four times. Not only was this his worst performance in a major but five club professionals beat him.
So we didn’t have what experts might call a ratings bonanza, but we did have a gutsy thrill-a-minute finish. Forget the anticlimactic playoff where Dufner missed a 5-footer for birdie on 16 and three-putted 17. Focus on the positives. Keegan Bradley is the first player in recorded history to make a triple bogey in the final nine holes of a major and go on to win the tournament. Keegan Bradley delivered an unforgettable finish.

Bradley was five shots behind with only three holes to play after his chip shot raced across the 15th green and into the water, leading to a triple bogey. It led to one of the most stunning turnarounds in a major. Bradley made back-to-back birdies, including a 35-footer that rattled into the cup on the 17th. Then came a monumental meltdown by Jason Dufner. Unflappable all afternoon, he hit his tee shot in the water on the 15th for the first of three straight bogeys that led to a three-hole playoff. Bradley birdied the 16th hole in the playoff,  his first outright lead of the day and went on to win by one shot.

Bradley - held his nerve and a long putter
However Bradley will also go into the record books as the first major winner to use a long putter. To the golfing purist these should be consigned to golf room 101 and I'm sure there are those in the committee rooms at certain clubs up and down the land crying into their pink gin at the sight. It wasn't the last time this year that we'd see such a putter and the site of Phil Mickleson with one on tour a few weeks later certainly raised a few eyebrows.

For the armchair golfer that was that. As much emotion, elation, desperation, despondency, joy, brilliance, incompetence and at times farce you could ever hope to see in a year. There was just time to cram in a glorious win for the European team at the Solheim Cup and for the Walker Cup boys to hold their nerve when it mattered to bring home that trophy and the TV year was done.

No time to snooze this season
What has a mere hacker like me taken from all this?. Well for one thing we can never take this game for granted whether you are one of the best in the world like McIlroy coming to grief and then rising like a phoenix from the flames or shooting a triple down the stretch like Bradley and finding the strength and self belief to carry on. Perhaps that is the biggest difference of all. Yes, we can all get it round to some degree on our local course, but usually a collapse of McIlroy proportion or at a critical stage like Keegan will leave indelible marks on our fragile golfing persona. Tee it up next time and it is there at the very forefront of the golfing brain eating away at your confidence.

Perhaps we need the apparent "don't give a damn" laid back persona of Clarke. I can think of a few in the 19th at my club that would have played him off scratch in the partying afterwards. Either way, the dark nights are here and the azalea and rhodedendrum of Augusta seem a long way off. As for me I'll continue to hit the range, and enjoy the challenge of Winter golf looking for that piece of magic. When that fails I'll comfort myself watching the top guys make it look easy on great courses in great events. Majors and TV. Is there really anything else?

No comments:

Post a Comment