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The past, present and future
A season of intrigue is about to come to a close, leaving some questions unanswered and posing others to think about

The old boys were sitting by the window looking out over the course, which had just received its first smattering of snow, just enough to stop play. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, there wasn’t a breath of wind. In fact, sitting in the sun, one could have imagined they had been transported to Switzerland.

It wasn’t long before their thoughts turned to what had happened on the golfing front in 2008. Padraig Harrington had had a most extraordinary year, winning a couple of major championships – magnificent! – but at the same time he played, on occasion, wayward golf with a lack of consistency that seemed strange in one so talented. That had happened to him at the Ryder Cup.

Ah, yes, the Ryder Cup. It was a commercial success and much had been written about it, but, at the end of it all, and being fair-minded chaps, they thought the result was fair. The United States deserved to win. Nick Faldo, Europe’s captain, had not covered himself in glory but he had taken a lot of unnecessary criticism, based mainly on his inability to have any sort of rapport with the press. Would he ever learn?

For the first time since 1964, the World Matchplay Championship did not take place on the West Course at Wentworth, leaving a strange void in the fixture list for those who have grown accustomed to watching matchplay golf played out on one of this country’s most challenging tests. Throughout the years, a number of sponsors had come and gone since the initial backers, Carreras and their Piccadilly cigarettes. Who knows, perhaps the tournament will never come back to these shores after having been played in a modified format in Spain in 2009.

There was less and less golf to look forward to on the BBC, which the old boys felt to be most disappointing. And who would have thought that more European Tour events would now be played in China than in Great Britain and Ireland? The recession was biting and this was even noticeable at club level. They wondered how the corporate bookings would go for the next year or two (and indeed how many golfers would be pressed into looking more closely at themembership fees when the renewal letters dropped through the letter-box).

The grass roots of the game would survive adequately enough but those big outings where companies spend £30/40/50,000 for a day’s golf might become very thin on the ground. Golf might be what some so-called experts like to call a "high-end business", but it would surely become increasingly hard for companies to justify sacking people with one hand while offering a golf day to their clients with the other.

Since his outstanding win at the 2005 US Open, Michael Campbell has largely
been missing in action

What of the players? They had always been interested in following the fortunes of women's golf, going back to Judy Rankin, the delightful American professional who came, saw and conquered at the Colgate Ladies Tournament at Sunningdale all those years ago. Annika Sorenstam had earlier this year announced her retirement at a relatively young age, and she would be missed. They wondered how long it would be before Laura Davies decided to hang up her tournament clubs and take another route in the world of golf.

Many fine players seemed to be going off the boil. They wondered if they had fired all their ammunition; whether they were tired of the eternal treadmill of professional golf and/or whether the ageing process was finally catching up on players they had so enjoyed watching over the years, like Fred Couples and Davis Love. Then there was Phil Mickelson, whose golf was so up and down that it almost looked as if he was two different people.

And what of Michael Campbell? Since winning the US Open at Pinehurst in 2005 – holding off Tiger Woods, no less – he seemed to have become a lost soul. He certainly had the ability, they mused, so it must be the mental side that was letting him down. That happens to many. How can a man be so great for one week and then so mediocre for the other 51?

Then there were the likes of Darren Clarke and Colin Montgomerie. What might the future hold for them? Would either of them blossom fully late in their careers, as Greg Norman did so sensationally at our Open this year?

Of course, for professional golfers there are always the senior tours. But all that glistens is not gold. When Nick Price hit 50, it was widely thought he would take that particular sector of the golfing world by storm. But it was not to be. The American Champions Tour has many wonderful names performing well, week in and week out. You don’t simply just pitch up and win.

And the European Seniors Tour? They seem to be plodding on. Perhaps their report should read 'Could do/might do better'. Ian Woosnam goes along very nicely, as does Sam Torrance. Many other players approaching 50 might well be pondering whether to follow them on that particular adventure, even if for some of them it’s perhaps because they have no other great interests or opportunities with which to occupy their time. It’s not as if they can all become golf course architects or get involved in television work. Can they?

January 2009

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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