Must read British Open thoughts: Duel of the ‘sons

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This is a must read piece on one man’s passion for golf and his thoughts on the final round of The Open Championship.

Surfing the internet this week I stumbled upon The Footy Almanac; a collection of yarns from sport tragics. While the game reports and stories are primarily focussed on AFL games, one writer, Peter Baulderstone wrote wonderful a rumination on his love for golf and his view of last week’s outrageous finish to The Open Championship.

With Peter’s permission, we are stoked to republish the piece in full here at Aussie Golfer. It’s a superb read.


 

by Peter Baulderstone. Originally published at The Footy Almanac.

Golf is rapidly supplanting football as my sport of choice. The Eagles have given me plenty of joy in the last decade, but this year I enjoy the tribal ritual of “going to the footy” more than watching them.

Sunday’s game against an under-strength Carlton was like watching 3 year olds trying to match round, square and triangular blocks with the appropriate hole. The presence of US Vice President Joe Biden may have put US – Australia relations on the same footing as Putin and ISIS.

Made me think of Randy Newman’s prescient “Political Science” of 40 years ago:

“Asia’s crowded and Europe’s too old
Africa is far too hot
And Canada’s too cold
And South America stole our name
Let’s drop the big one
There’ll be no one left to blame us
We’ll save Australia
Don’t wanna hurt no kangaroo
We’ll build an All American amusement park there
They got surfin’, too”

With games like this and Trump in the White House our luck may not hold much longer.

I avoided the first quarter with urgent shopping; forced myself to watch the second to confirm my worst fears; made lunch; walked the dog and peeked at the game through finger slits in the hope that the miracle of toilet training had stopped the 3yo’s shitting themselves on public display. No such luck.

Aye it’s footy Jim – but not as we (hope to) know it.

The Avenging Eagle was helping out a friend later in the afternoon so I wandered off to the practice fairway at Royal Maylands. Sticking pictures of Jack Darling on the golf ball may not help my golf swing but it does restore a certain equilibrium.

Walking back through the door sodden but smiling in the early evening gloaming (great word that – the Scots have 50 different words for every form of misery and darkness), the Avenging Eagle asked quizzically “can you explain why you love golf so much?”

She was a PE teacher and excellent sports (man/woman/participant? – I’ll ask Andrew Bolt and Rick Kane the politically correct terminology and get back to you) in her younger days before suffering a serious accident. Her main sporting outlet nowadays is Eagle worship and maggot bashing.

It’s a question I have been pondering myself lately. Being a skinny kid golf and cricket held more attractions for me than footy. My standard line is “played off 14 at 14 and been going backwards ever since”. One of the great privileges of a country upbringing was having plentiful free sporting facilities within a bike ride. Slinging the pencil golf bag containing 2 and 4 persimmon; 3, 5 and 7 irons and putter over the shoulder for the 10 minute pedal was a given on every non-footy practice evening in winter. No bunkers or mounds that required fancy new-fangled lofted wedges

Golf season began in May with the first sustained rains and lasted until November’s sun had bare dirt outflanking the sparse wisps of remnant grass. Men gathered with sump oil to get the black slag “greens” ready for putting, and ageing Massey Fergusons gang mowed the soursobs, wireweed and limestone outcrops into something resembling fairways.

I was introduced to “preferred lies” as a teenager on the golf course just before “have you been drinking” at home.

My first response to the Avenging Eagle was that golf is the only sport of my childhood that I can still play into my 60’s. It’s familiar. A less costly obsession than the punt.

It’s gentle exercise. It’s getting outside into the sun and the rain and wind in green and pleasant surroundings. A good walk spoiled – as they say.

In truth I have come back to golf in late middle age having been AWOL for much of the last 30 years. I played obsessively into my late 20’s but then work, family and the siren call of the course (race not golf) took over my life. A round of golf takes 5+ hours with travel and my preferred lie was that I could not afford the time.

I came back to it in my mid 50’s not out of any sudden desire, but from the realisation that empty hours of lonely retirement loomed if I didn’t get off my arse. A couple of then casual acquaintances offered me the “dead man’s slot” in their foursome “until Robert gets over his chemo”. One man’s misfortune is another man’s opportunity.

The gifts of golf and friendship had been dormant in me – not extinct. Like a rusty backswing they need practice and oiling.

“Golf fits with my personality,” I told AE. “I either do something well or not at all.” The punt is now In the “not at all” pile along with handyman duties.

Golf is the only game where the ball is still as are the rest of the players and the playing field (save for a bit of wind). The only thing in motion is your body and (unfortunately) your mind.

A well struck golf shot is literally “miraculous”. A thing of mystery and beauty that arrives without explanation or apparent justification. The same elements and effort that (apparently) produces the last 6 topped duck hooks has inexplicably delivered something that arches effortlessly skywards and glides on gossamer wings to settle 180 metres hence next to the pin.

Above all others, golf is the game that reminds me of the mystery of existence and my petty place in it. Golf (like life) is full of paradox. You have to hit down to make the ball go higher. You have to swing right to make the ball go left. The harder you try to hit it the less distance the ball goes. More effort generally produces worse results.

Golf binds the threads of striving and acceptance. To search; to glimpse; but to never quite arrive.

In a world full of mad fundamentalists (Trump, Putin, Bolt, Kruger, BT and Tilt/Stack swing plane alignment coaches) there is only the gentle hope that with patience, persistence and practice my golf score and the world immediately around me can be a little kinder this week.

Above all else golf is a game where you can’t see yourself. The faults in the lives and swings of others are immediately apparent. But the persistent duck hooks; missed four footers; disappointing bank balance and broken relationships suggest that I have not always been pure of swing or heart myself.

I have no illusions that I can ever hit the ball within 100 metres of the length of “my man” JDay, but logic suggests there is no reason why I should not be able to hit it as smoothly and consistently with a little practice and coaching. Results suggest otherwise.

“For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.” (Romans 7:19). St Paul was a golfer.

Last week the Foxtel man installed the satellite dish on the roof after I finally succumbed to the blandishments of the “free instal and 2 months free on a 6 month contract” EOFY deal. For 4 nights I was glued to Foxsports on the IPad until midnight while AE caught up with some Box Sets.

The British Open is golf for me despite me the manicured beauty of Augusta. Golf links hewed from fallow ancient dunes in the same way as our country golf courses are hewn from waste paddocks, not moulded with architects or bulldozers.

Before pro golf on tv, there was the BP District Rep who toured the local golf clubs 6 months after each Open with a cine film of the deeds of Palmer, Player, Nicklaus and in a good year – our Nagle and Thomson. The projector and screen were borrowed from the school and the keg from the pub, and the annual fund raising dinner to purchase a new gang mower was pencilled into diaries across the district.

What sticks in my memory is not Henry Longhurst’s tweed jacket and tie or the deeds of the players but the gentle way every film began with subtle mockery at the foolishness of golfers. One year it showed a Cadillac arriving with the appropriately seersuckered visiting American golfers with green trousers and purple head covers. Marching to the first at the Old Course accompanied by wizened caddies in overcoats and cloth caps, looking as miserable as the weather.

After vigorous practice swings the Yank toes his first drive at right angles where it trickles onto the 18th green and settles 2 feet from the pin. The caddy stuffs the driver back in the bag with the consoling advice “just a wee poott and yooou’ll be rooond in twoooo.”

This year’s Open was at Royal Troon on the Scottish west coast not far from Glasgow. Though lengthened these old courses are largely defenceless from the new technology and muscled athletes of modern golf save for their steep-sided deep bunkers and the wind. Hazards and rough are hazardous and rough on Scottish links – not the trifling inconveniences of most US courses.

One of the great joys is watching the powerful afflicted and humbled by old truths that must be respected rather than overpowered. Phil Mickelson played British Open courses for 15 years until Troon in 2004 with the same ‘shock and awe’ aerial assault Americans usually reserve for troublesome Middle East oil states. With similar results until he heeded the advice to take 2 extra clubs and shorten his grip and swing to be patient and punch the ball below the wind. We can only pray that the Donald was listening to this hard-won experience from a fellow Republican at his Trump Turnberry resort a few miles down the coast from Troon.

This year’s Open delivered its traditional smorgasbord of Crowded House weather. Thursday was sunny and benign. Mickelson shooting a course record 8 under 63. My man JDay struggled with himself more than the course or the weather. Like Greg Norman he can sometimes appear burdened by the weight of his own expectations. He pushed when he should have let the occasion come to him, and the rest of the week was occasional vignettes of what might have been for him and me.

On Friday the wind rose from morning breeze when Swede Henrik Stenson snuck round with the sparrows for 65 to afternoon sturm und drang when JDay played. Saturday the rain abated but the wind turned brollies into parachutes and professional golfers into cowed children.

By day’s end Stenson and Mickelson had separated themselves from the rest of the field and the chasing group was hardened survivors and wet-eared innocents. None with the game or class to trouble the final pair.

Stenson – tall, imperious and controlled like Greg Chappell at the crease. Mickelson – flowing locks, naughty boy grin and piercing drives like David Gower.

Their final round was a golden winged beetle frozen in amber and time. Not the ebb and flow we expected, more like flow and flow. The odd missed gettable putt by Stenson showing that a heart still beat beneath the implacable exterior. The odd wayward drive by Mickelson saved from gorse by a dozy spectator suddenly awoken by an unannounced dimpled visitor.

As third place disappeared in the rear vision mirror, I thought of Bradman and then decided this was an event not a career. More a Stan McCabe hooking Larwood and bodyline at the SCG for 187, or 232 in 277 minutes at Trent Bridge in 1938. When Bradman summoned card playing team mates from the back of the dressing room with the command to “come and look at this. You will never see the like of this again.”

You know, a day like Stenson had today when every drive split the middle. Every iron was yard perfect in line and distance; and speculative 45 foot putts dropped soundlessly into the cup. And every leg of the quaddy got home at double figure odds; your footy team came from 5 goals down into the wind in the last quarter; and the blonde in the red dress asked if you could drive her home as her boyfriend is away for the week.

You may, I don’t.

At Turnberry in 1977 Nicklaus and Watson’s duel in the sun had them finishing 10 shots clear of third place. On Sunday at Troon the duel of the ‘sons finished with Stenson 3 clear of Mickelson and 14 clear of third place.

A memory frozen in time of the impossible made real for a day. It’s why life is worth golfing for.

Or so I’m told.

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