Thought for the Day
If at first you don’t succeed, destroy all evidence that you tried
Bring it on
As GoKart likes to regard itself as having its finger on the pulse, ear to the ground and any other insider, informed, access to the skinny cliché you can think of, you will no doubt want our view on who is going to win the Open. But the truth is, what the heck do we (or anyone else) really know? Who, for example, could have predicted Ben Curtis, Todd Hamilton or Paul Lawrie to lift the claret jug over the last decade or so? And how about Trevor Immelman and Zach Johnson to don a fetching green jacket; Lucas Glover, Angel Cabrera and Graeme McDowell to lift the US Open trophy; or YE Yang, Shaun Micheel and Rich Beem to take the year’s fourth Major, the USPGA?
As a general rule of thumb, two of the year’s big ones are captured by players who already have a Major win under their belt, while the other two go to debutant victors, and so far in 2010 that pattern has continued, with Phil Mickelson grabbing the Masters on behalf of the been-there-done-that-got-the-T-shirt brigade, and Northern Ireland’s finest being the representative for the gosh-what-just happened contestants, who are supposed to be there just to make up the numbers.
So when in doubt, follow the bookies and right now they seem to have Tiger Woods firmly ensconced as favourite (7-2), closely followed by Phil Mickelson (12-1), Lee Westwood (14-1), Padraig Harrington and Ernie Els (16-1), and Rory McIlroy (18-1).
I don’t know whether it is inevitable home-pride cock-eyed optimism but it seems to me that we have a very real chance of seeing a home grown winner this time. Lee Westwood’s form has not been great recently but between him, Justin Rose, Ian Poulter, Paul Casey, Luke Donald, Ross Fisher, Padraig Harrington and Rory McIlroy, the chances of a home victory are stronger than ever (and of course, we regard anyone from Ireland, whether north or south, as one of ours). For an each way bet you could do worse than Stephen Gallacher, a streak player who just finished fourth at Loch Lomond after a 69, 68 weekend. He has now fully recovered from injury problems and although he has only one European Tour victory under his belt, it came at St Andrews, in the Dunhill Links Championship.
The right venue?
For several years I toyed with the idea of writing to Peter Dawson, chief executive of the R&A, with the suggestion that he consider bringing golf’s oldest Major to a links course I had just opened. The course had, I would explain, the easiest opening and closing holes in championship golf, only two par threes, at least four driveable par fours, several double greens which tend to make play ridiculously slow, and was a layout where you could hit it left all day and never find trouble – because that, in a nutshell, is the Old Course and I believed that it was no longer a good enough test for the best in the world.
Like so many, however, who have had the good fortune to play the Old Lady a few times I have been obliged to reconsider because it remains a place of endless subtlety, charm and challenge. And there is nowhere else in the world that can say: ‘Every great golfer who has ever played the game has tested themselves on this course.’ Even Ben Hogan, who only played one Open Championship, and that at Carnoustie, stopped off at St Andrews on his way home (although he walked off the 17th green straight onto a train and didn’t play the last).
That history is unsurpassed and I’m pretty sure that for me the highlight of the week will be on Wednesday, when 25 former winners will take part in the four-hole Champions Challenge that celebrates the 150th anniversary of the first Open, at Prestwick in 1860. Everyone who attends will have their own favourite group but I might wait for the final threeball of Tom Weiskopf, Ernie Els and Tom Watson – two of the smoothest swingers ever seen, and the modern era master of links golf.
The elephant in the room, of course, will be Seve Ballesteros, who has had to pull out on the advice of his oncologist but we all know he’ll be there in spirit and in our hearts.
It is understandable that people like us (and by this I mean club golfers with dodgy handicaps) do not particularly like water hazards on a golf course. They cost us money, in the form of lost balls, but more damagingly they cost us strokes, which unlike golf balls, are impossible to replace. It is less easy, however, to comprehend why a bit of aqua gets into the mind and consequently buggers up the swing, of gnarled, tough-as-old boots Tour pros.
Only a week ago we witnessed Miguel Angel Jimenez – and they don’t come much more experienced or laidback than him – standing in the middle of the 72nd fairway of the Alstom Open de France with a two-stroke lead over the field and a 7-iron in his hands with which he only needed to hit a regulation piece-of-cake, no-worries shot to the green. Anywhere on the putting surface would have done but he chunked it into the water. In the subsequent playoff his compatriot Alejandro Canizares, who is young enough, we would think, to not yet have the accumulation of mental scars that accrue with a lengthy career, decided to out-perform his senior colleague by dumping his ball into the water twice.
My home course has a beautiful par 3 over water to a virtual island green. The good news is that it only plays between a wedge and 8-iron, depending on the mood of the greenkeeper when he sets out the tee markers in the morning, and yet I have personally dumped more Titleists into the pond than I can count. In any other situation an 8-iron to the green would have me purring in anticipation but on this hole I find limitless ways to miss the target. If we see our ball heading for the rough or trees we may not like the fact but it doesn’t produce the same jolt of fear as that ominous splash and yet it should. Fail to find your ball in the jungle and it’s the long trudge back to the tee; find the water hazard and more often than not you can drop out, especially if it’s a lateral, and lose only one stroke, as opposed to hitting three from the tee. In the early days of the European Tour, one wily veteran, if his ball was off line, would often say, where appropriate: ‘Damn, it’s going into the water,’ trying to convince his playing partners that it was wet, rather than lost, so that he could drop out to the side if necessary (and it often worked).
Perhaps the last word should go to Tommy Bolt, he of the famed titanic temper. He once said: ‘Only bullfighting and the water hole are left as vestigial evidence of what a bloody savage man used to be. Only in golf is this sort of contrived swindle allowed.’
Quote of the Week
May thy ball lie in green pastures – and not in still waters.