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Wrongs at rite of spring
The Masters produced a worthy champion yet again but not before the spectators had been forced to endure a glacial pace of play

Lt. Commander John St John Pharte, CDM, RN (Ret'd) and Lt. Colonel Horatio Reilly-ffoulle were together for the first time since they had watched the end of the Masters Tournament. For many years they’d been tremendous followers of this fine event, but this year, somehow, they were slightly disappointed for a number of reasons – the main one being that it went on far too long. Both of them had fallen asleep at crucial moments and missed much of the excitement.

Trevor wipes his eye. Many had theirs closed when the Masters finished.

Having been brought up on a diet of the BBC, where everything is so near-perfect that an overrun of a minute or two causes great consternation, they couldn't work out how it was possible on American television (where everything is driven by ratings and revenue generated from various advertisers) for programmes to run up to an hour late. It seemed incomprehensible, but it didn't appear to be of great consequence to the American broadcasters, perhaps because of the power wielded by the Augusta National Golf Club. They would not have liked to have been the TV executive who said: “Look here, we can't have our programmes overrunning like this, you'll have to start the players earlier.” The answer to that might well have been: “We shall do it the way we have done it for many years and if you don’t like it, there are a couple of other networks who I’m sure would be delighted to have the Masters.”

Reilly-ffoulle decided it was time for a couple of large pink gins and summoned Gammon, the long-suffering steward. The two old boys agreed that they had once again enjoyed the splendour of the course, the colours and the movement, although the golf at times was rather dull. Dammit, on the final day only a couple of players managed to break 70, when it appeared to them that the course had been set up as easy as possible. The tees had been moved forward and some of the flags had been put in very receptive positions. Trevor Immelman had played very stoically and, even though he made a serious error at the 70th hole, he’d secured victory with some good solid play up the final fairway.

They were disappointed that apart from Padraig Harrington, the British and European players had flattered to deceive. There was nothing new in that. They wondered why so many of them appeared to play the wrong shot at the wrong time and came to the conclusion that, although there were a number of top-class coaches, tutors and professorial folk who understood the mechanics of the game, they couldn’t think of one great player from the past whom these fellows went to when in need of information as how actually to play the game – for example, when to attack and when to and defend. They were rather tired of watching players going for the flag when it was only four yards from a cavernous bunker on the left-hand side of the green, and then to see a shot from 80 yards plummet into the sand when the whole of the green was open to the right. Only Nick Faldo of the recent golfing greats appeared to pass on some of his wit, wisdom and golfing prowess to but a handful of up-and-coming players. They wondered why, but they realised that none of the world’s top coaches had enjoyed tournament success at the very highest level.

They also found it shocking that it was taking five hours to go round in a twoball, with no spectators in the way and no rough to speak of. They were continuously reading how things were being done to speed up play, but it seemed to them that nothing was ever done and, of course, it wouldn't be until the players themselves had decided that enough was enough. How they longed for the time when they were both much younger and had watched Peter Thomson, the great Australian, playing in the final at Wentworth in the Piccadilly World Matchplay Championship against Jack Nicklaus, who was then thought to be the slowest player in the world. They completed their first 18 holes in 2 hours 53 minutes. And those were the days when spectators were allowed on the fairways, and getting round the course was a work of art.

Nevertheless, congratulations to Immelman, although Tiger Woods missed at least four opportunities in the last seven holes to make him sweat a bit. But it wasn't to be and perhaps the game is all the better for that. Immelman, not a giant of a man and not renowned for long-hitting, came through on a course which is tinkered with and tweaked every year. Such it is at the Masters. And they both knew that, in any case, they’d be back in front of the television next April.

June 2008

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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