Troon talent gets its due respect

By: samjack

Unlike the sport which I come from, you will never hear spectators at a professional golf tournament utter the words “Hopeless – I could do better than that”. And certainly not at the Open.
I was reminded of that fact walking the Royal Troon course last week, watching the trials and tribulations of my good friends and occasional golfing partners Darren Clarke and Paul McGinlay.
In football you will always get those smart alecks who think they know better than those out on the pitch, whereas those who watch golf know how difficult the sport is and wouldn’t have the temerity to tell even the professionals at the smallest of clubs how to play the game. Playing in the Open for a four-handicapper like myself is akin to a Sunday League footballer playing in the Premiership – the two are worlds apart. But the difference in standard is more immediately obvious in golf.
Ivan Lendl, the former Grand Slam tennis champion, said the other day that if he had his time again he would choose golf rather than tennis as a career. I’m not sure I agree, as much as I love the sport. I think it’s a tough living. Golf can be a cruel, spiteful, nasty game – wonderful as it is. It can turn on you even when you’re doing well. You have to have unbelievable nerve and heart to be great at it and out of a 150-odd players there’s only one winner – and often that’s the course.
Even though I have never played Royal Troon, you can see that while it is a fair course it is also a really tough one – anyone who finishes under par in those tricky cross-winds has done exceptionally well. The back nine is awesome. Those tee shots at the 10th and 11th are particularly scary – too scary for me. I fancy my duck hook would creep in on those holes.
The great thing about golf, of course, is that you can play these courses and if you are very lucky, as I have been, you can occasionally even play with the greats. That’s something the average Joe definitely cannot do at football and even if he could, he wouldn’t get a touch of the ball.
These past three days I’ve just been happy to be a fan, urging on my friends and my wagers. I’m not a gambling man by nature but I do like to bet on golf. It all adds to the fun of the event. My bets here have not gone too well: Sergio Garcia failed to make the cut while at least my each-way bet, Adam Scott, rallied nicely on Friday after a poor start.
I would have backed Clarke here except I think it would have been the kiss of death for my friend. He has been playing really well without me adding to his bad luck. He deserved to be higher up the leaderboard and would have been but for unfortunate finishes at the end of the opening two rounds. I know him quite well and he tends to get a bit frustrated when things don’t go for him.
Clarke should be playing with me. We’re unbeaten as a partnership, mainly because of him. Well, in fact, entirely because of him. I told him yesterday if he walked round with me for a couple of days he might produce the magic. He’s not the most sympathetic of playing partners, though. He’s a merciless mickey-taker when things are going badly for you and right now I’m on the crest of a slump.
As for Clarke, he’s in good shape in terms of form and fitness. He’s become a fitness fanatic of late and lost a lot of weight. I think he’s trying to get fit enough to play football. Fancies himself as a striker.
Talking of bets, one of the best could still be Colin Montgomerie. Originally the same price as Greece for the European Championship, one would be hard-pressed to get anything like 80-1 for him now. Maybe when people least expect it of him, he will produce that first victory in a major. After Phil Mickelson’s success at the Masters this year we would then be running out of obvious candidates for that “Best Player Never to Win a Major” tag.
He has had such a wonderful career, it would be only proper that he crowned it with a major, even if in some people’s minds his achievement of seven consecutive orders of merit is as good, if not better, than any major. Following the much-publicised break-up of his marriage, he seems, emotionally, to have it all much more together now and is thriving on the local support.
I have played in his company but I cannot say I know the man – nor his wife – but I think we would all love to see him lift the Claret Jug.
It was great to see Tiger Woods coming back to his best yesterday. He was responsible for raising the bar in the sport and forced others to improve their game, even if his recent lack of tournament success is down to his own poor form rather than the improvement of his rivals.
The general consensus among those who understand the mechanics of the game better than myself is that he doesn’t swing as well as he used to. Yet throughout his slump he has remained competitive, which is indicative of how great a champion he is.

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