Back on friendly soil…… thank the Lord
October 12, 2016 by Stuart Barber
The tweet The Reverend Stephen Willett sent minutes after landing back in Heathrow this week. An inveterate tweeter, it seems, and his frequent messages throughout last week's Ryder Cup give an interesting slant to the furore Danny's brother created before the event. Undoubtedly ill- timed, though not far short of the mark, his comments hardly helped his brother's cause in a pretty hostile cauldron of noise.
The result - not totally unexpected looking at the respective rankings of the two teams - must have been a huge disappointment for Team Europe and their captain. Although it must be said that seeing their celebrations after the presentation could lead one to suppose they had just retained the cup.
The action over the three days has been described in such detail that little would be served by re-hashing those matches. Some wonderful golf was played on both sides and many players showed us just how high the level of professional golf is today. Man of the match was undoubtedly Patrick Reed: unfortunately he'd have also won the accolade of the most vociferously objectionable. Until that is when he halved after Rory McIlroy had sunk a long putt only for Reed to match the birdie. After both players had displayed everything that is the most totally un-golf like behaviour imaginable, the pair touched knuckles, and left the arena chatting animatedly. A welcome relief to everything that has nothing to do with golf as it “did oughta be.”
Sadly the tweet from “Son of the Preacher man's” brother set the ball rolling and made the unpleasant scenes one saw at Hazletine virtually assured. A notice asking spectators to behave and not be objectionable was rather like Sony Liston saying to my great friend the late Harry Carpenter when asked to comment on the boasts of Cassius Clay (as he was then called) said “It's like whistling in the wind” Some whistling, some wind!
Spectators were so insulting to European players during the first two days at Hazeltine that the PGA of America issued a statement on Sunday reminding that spectators would be ejected for obscene remarks. I've no idea whether any or if so how many were removed.
I think it's high time the respective PGA's took a good hard look at this atmosphere of partisan fervour, bordering on a partisan hate campaign. Maybe they could start with the players ensuring they set the example. I don't recall ever seeing a rugby crowd descend to the depths of appalling behaviour that we saw at Hazeltine. Although to be fair some of the players find themselves in high level fisticuffs.
Team USA performed exactly as their captain asked of them "We've been criticized for eight or 10 years for not coming together," Love said. "I'm so proud of them. We were kicked around for so long. You realize you have to do something." and they were already talking about defending the trophy in France in 2018.
"Hopefully there's a change in the Ryder Cup," Spieth said. "We're looking forward to going to Paris and trying to win one over there."
Golf in France is different. I recall playing many years ago in a foursomes match on the sea course at Le Touquet – a marvellous stretch of testing golf - when we came upon a very slow moving French two ball. As we waited on the tee for the pair to actually hit a tee shot we asked if we might play through –“Certainly not.” they said “You are four and we are two” when we said that as a foursome we were only playing two balls the reply was “How strange and how English - no you may not!”
Europe captain Darren Clarke, whose players led early in eight of the 12 concluding singles matches, called the loss "incredibly disappointing." A slight understatement you may think and I'm sure not his actual reaction when the inevitable became clear last Sunday afternoon!
Still, the great win enabled the Americans to have the Trophy prominently on display along with his golf bag at the Arnold Palmer memorial service on the Monday. A truly memorable occasion when America was able to mourn a great golfer, businessman and yet a very human man. I would thoroughly recommend everyone to read the excellent and moving epitaph which Arnie's official biographer, Jim Nugent, penned following his great friend's passing.
Thinking of the immense impact Arnold Palmer had on the golfing world, I was reminded of his human side with a story Scotsman George Will told me some years ago. For many years, after leaving the tournament scene, the professional at Sundridge Park in Kent, George in his youth was immensely gifted as a golfer, but he seemed to just lack that steely nerve to propel him into the very top echelon of players.
George had been selected to play in 1963 in the first of his three consecutive Ryder Cups. The course was East Lake GC near Atlanta, incidentally the very same where Rory McIlroy this year won his 10 million dollar bonus to take the Fedex Cup. Arnold Palmer was the USA captain, and was also the last playing captain in the Ryder Cup. On the Tuesday of Ryder Cup week Arnold invited George and fellow rookie on the GB&I team, Brian Huggett to take a spin in his new aeroplane of which he had just taken delivery. George said that he then experienced what seemed an eternity but was probably no more than 5 minutes of sheer terror!
Having climbed as near vertically as he could they dive bombed the practice ground at terrifying speed, and whistled low overhead of the startled golfers before climbing again, doing a roll and flying over the golfers again but upside down this time! Eventually they landed, white faced and minus their breakfasts, to get a massive Arnie handshake that George said meant he couldn't grip a golf club for about half an hour, even after his knees had stopped shaking.
History reveals that Huggett and Will defeated Palmer and Pott three and two in the top match of the opening foursomes and that George lost to Arnie by a similar margin in the afternoon singles on the final day.
One of the last times I met Arnold Palmer was a good deal more prosaic. We got into a lift on the 5th floor of a hotel in Seoul in the eighties, when he was playing a “golden oldies” exhibition match at a newly opened course in South Korea. A few floors down two American ladies got into the lift and as we all alighted on the ground floor one lady said to the other “who was that with Kenny Rogers?” and the other said “I think it was that golfer Arnold Palmer”. Although I did at that time bear more than a passing resemblance to the singer, Arnold only remarked “well at least I know I really am Arnold Palmer”
At a time, when I was working with a number of sponsors on the newly formed European Tour, Arnold Palmer played several times in Europe, before finally retiring. He once described a lady who helped me with running press centres at those tournaments as “One of the most difficult par fours” he'd ever encountered. I never asked him what he really meant!
I'm sure before he retired to a small holding in Wales, rearing pigs and chickens, Stephen Willett, father of Masters Champion Danny, must have been one heck of a great preacher, judging by the succession of tweets he fired off during the Ryder Cup. Here's just a couple to give you the flavour:-
How cruel folk can be. How moronic a crowd can get
Well we are all alive. Huge lessons about what really matters.
Finally, and let's regain our sense of humour, the following tweet and photo:-
The land of the free and the home of the salesman.
Add attached photo of man in crowd with poster on his back
After all it is only a game and as Winston Churchill once wrote “ Golf is a game whose aim is to hit a very small ball into an ever smaller hole, with weapons singularly ill-designed for the purpose...a pointless exercise”
But we love it – until the next time you miss that 2ft putt!