Normal Service is (Almost) Resumed

Thought for the Day
Men who seek happiness are like drunkards who can never find their house but are sure they have one

Normal Service is (Almost) Resumed
So, things are getting back to normal, albeit slowly, and for proof we only have to look at the pro game. The final of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play was contested by two golfers who are, how can I put this politely – not among the game’s leading marquee names. We shouldn’t be surprised as the omens were writ large in the very first staging of the event, when the 1999 final was fought out between Jeff Maggert and Andrew Magee, with Maggert winning at the 38th hole.

It demonstrated, all too clearly, why match play does not, apart from team competitions such as the Ryder and Solheim cups, excite too much enthusiasm, especially from TV broadcasters. Unlike 72-hole strokeplay tournaments, the cream does not usually rise to the top. This is not meant to traduce either Billy Horschel, who deservedly won, or his beaten opponent Scottie Scheffler, a man with a great future. Horschel has been a pro since 2009, had to visit final qualifying school three times and now has six wins to his credit, two of them being in the less-than-illustrious Zurich Classic of New Orleans. But not even he would claim to be among the game’s greats and virtually admitted as much with his post-round remark: ‘I know I have that talent to win all the majors. I just haven’t shown it yet.’

But in match play, anyone can have a hot week and over the sprint distance of 18 holes and beat anyone else. Just ask virtually anonymous Australian left-hander Nick O’Hern, who twice beat Tiger Woods in this event, when it was known as the WGC-Accenture Match Play. Then again, Tiger’s match play record isn’t exactly stellar.

So television companies loathe match play because far fewer people want to watch Randy J Wormslider take on Kermit Schaffenfaffer III, than would tune in to see, for example, Dustin Johnson versus Jon Rahm. There is also the matter of tediousness. A five-hour telecast, with only two matches in progress (we cannot forget the titanic duel for third spot, between Matt Kuchar and Victor Perez), is mind-numbingly, ball-achingly dreary.

The real joy of seeing Horschel win, for this viewer at least, was because he stuck it to the obnoxiously partisan Texas fans, who cheered on Scheffler because he comes from Dallas and attended the University of Texas. Cries of support for Horschel were few and far between but did include encouraging remarks such as: ‘Chip it in the water, Billy,’ and ‘Roll it off the green.’ Why these nasty, vindictive people are allowed to remain in the galleries is a mystery.

At the Players Championship two weeks ago, where Lee Westwood was denied a win by Justin Thomas, who produced a stunning five-under par burst of golf in four holes, we also saw the proclivity of some fans to scream themselves hoarse for little apparent reason. As Lee walked to the infamous 17th green, the spectators on the mound to the left of the hole bellowed nonsense non-stop. Westwood behaved impeccably, smiling and giving a thumbs-up but if he’s anything like me, would have been thinking: ‘Why don’t you stop behaving like over-excited six-year-olds, pumped to the gills with chocolate and fizzy drinks?’

Elsewhere, we can tell there’s a return to normality by the number of small certainties in view, the like of which we have grown used to over the years. Rory McIlroy, for example, is blowing hot and cold and doesn’t know from one week to the next whether his golf ball will find the fairway – or at least, the one he’s aiming at. Tiger Woods is out of action recuperating, but this time his injuries, although more serious, aren’t as a direct result of golf.

Meanwhile, Dustin Johnson wanders around several acres of manicured turf, looking for all the world like someone out walking his dog, who just happens to be sniffing around the bushes (the dog, that is, not Dustin). And then, for no apparent reason, he’ll burst into life, (Dustin that is, not the dog), win a tournament with ease, all the while continuing to look about as stressed as a laidback somnambulist on sedatives.

Jason Day will continue to give us fleeting glimpses of quite how good he can be, reviving hopes that this most likeable man will get back into the winner’s circle, but never quite sustaining it, and Rickie Fowler will remain in the doldrums. At the same time, Justin Thomas will continue his serene progress up the world rankings, while Bryson DeChambeau, gets all golf watchers, including himself, into a lather of excitement to see just how far he can propel a golf ball.

While he’s doing it, TV commentators will remind us, ad nauseum, that he’s not just about distance but is also a fine iron player and has an excellent short game. It’s as if they don’t realise that we, too have been watching Bryson and been able to see for ourselves just how good his all-round talent is.

Patrick Reed continues to play the excellent, unfussy golf that has seen him climb to number seven in the world, with almost no-one watching or seeming to care and Collin Morikawa has cemented his status as the most exciting young player in world golf today.

Let joy be unconfined! The worst year many of us can remember may, hopefully, finally become a memory.

Quote of the Week
My ball retriever is not long enough to get my putter out of the tree
Brian Weis

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