Thought for the Day
The colder the X-ray table, the more of your body needs to be on it
Ripening with age
Right now, Robert Karlsson, who has just won in such impressive style in Qatar, is reminiscent of the Vijay Singh we saw in the early part of this century, having come finally into his own after turning 40. The elegant Swede shot an apparently effortless seven-under par 65 and looked as unflappable as all Scandinavian golfers manage to do while applying the coup de grace to their talented opponents. Like ducks, they may be experiencing a flurry of unseen activity and anxiety below the surface but to all outward appearances, when in contention, Robert and his compatriots could be sitting at home with their feet up, opening another beer while channel-hopping the TV.
Like Roger Federer in a different arena, Karlsson seems to have had his sweat glands permanently sealed and it is the mark of a great athlete that they make significant accomplishments seem to be as easy as a dockyard blonde luring Tiger Woods into bed.
But such élan and grace under pressure does not come as naturally as it might appear. Robert has always had the distance, the touch and the talent to win whenever he was in form but until a few years ago lacked the mental toughness needed to get the job done consistently. There were enough occasions when he played himself into the final group on Sunday, or close enough to be in contention, and then failed to capitalise, that we wondered if his end-of-career report would read ‘Could have done better.’ But now has added an inner core of steel to his make-up he may well prove that his European Tour Order of Merit win of 2008 was no one-hit wonder.
A Ryder Cup year always starts early for we scribes, and although we have only just turned into the second month of 2010, some are already beginning to predict that the omens are good for Europe’s chances, come Celtic Manor in September. They point to Karlsson’s win, and the fact that those in contention after three rounds were British big guns like Lee Westwood and Paul Casey; with European former greats and wannabes, such as Niclas Fasth, Thomas Bjorn, Alvaro Quiros and Bradley Dredge all in the top-10, and other potential team members, like Graeme McDowell and Nick Dougherty also showing well in the desert.
But hold back on that pre-emptive enthusiasm for just a cotton-picking minute. By the time the final 12 men good and true gather in Wales under Monty’s leadership a lot will have happened and the most crucial indicator of our chances of victory will be shown by current form, not what was achieved seven months ago in the sporting oases of Qatar or Dubai. We have all seen in the past the player who gets on a hot streak at the beginning of the season, and who then hangs on by their fingernails as a succession of fellow competitors tries to snatch that precious Ryder Cup place from their grasp, only to fall agonisingly short. So our hero scrapes in, having lost all the form that made it possible for him to be measured for his smart team blazer, and plays like a donkey during the three days of competition. I can only think of two exceptions to this rule, both of which happened in 2002, under Sir Torrance of Largs’ inspirational leadership. This, you will recall, was the one that was postponed for a year following the Twin Towers tragedy of 9/11, so by the time the teams assembled at The Belfry a year later, the form of two Europeans in particular – Phillip Price and Lee Westwood – was non-existent. Torrance took the inspired decision to separate great pals Westwood and Darren Clarke, and instead paired the Englishman with Sergio Garcia to great effect.
Price was less lucky, losing his only outing in the first two days when he and Pierre Fulke succumbed 2&1 on the second day foursomes to Phil Mickelson and David Toms. And then Price, ranked 119th, drew the world’s second best player, Mickelson, in the singles. As expected it was a no-contest – Price annihilated him.
But those examples live so long in the memory because of their rarity value and it remains true that it is not the play that gets you into the competition that counts; the form you show in the immediate few weeks before the teams face each other is far more significant. The early European omens for the Ryder Cup might be good but as a measure of the likelihood of victory they are pretty worthless.
Not all tips work
During a recent round I caught up with another golfer on his own and we played a few holes together. He turned out to be a terrible putter because he kept lifting his head. I suggested he follow the pros advice of not raising his head until he heard the ball rattle into the cup – he’s still there, waiting
Quote of the week
‘No one has ever conquered this game. One week out there and you are God; next time you are the devil.’