Rory and Revenge

This week I have been listening, fascinated, to the audiobook of Tom Bower’s Revenge. This chronicles the relationship of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

What does this have to do with golf? You may ask.

Well Chapter 5 had my eyes on stalks, and my mouth hanging open.

It is called The Irishman.

And it talks about Meghan Markle’s relationship with – 

Rory McIlroy.

Granted it was when he was twenty five, had recently broken up with Caroline Wozniacki and was the toast of golf having won two majors in a year.

And Meghan, according to the actor reading the book who does a simpering voice when reading her reported speech, had a plan. She wanted an Englishman, and was on the hunt. The little fact of the Irish Sea between England and Ireland and his already transatlantic accent could be overlooked. 

This was all eight years ago, and thankfully Rory is now happily settled elsewhere. 

To find out more you’ll have to read the book. It is excellent and fascinating. 

What a woman she is. Unbelievable.

Ye gods. We could have had Meghan Markle on TV every week on the PGA Tour.

But a funny twist. In the interview with John Daly below, you will hear JD talk of his genuine love for the Royal Family. He says if Princess Diana was alive today, he would have been married to her.

John Daly as a father-in-law! He would definitely get her to behave!

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Did John Daly really call him “Daddy Trump”?

Yes, twice!

This interview with JD shows Piers Morgan’s real talent as an interviewer, how he can inkle things out of people. Daly tells him how he begged Greg Norman for a spot on the LIV tour, but he was too old. This was a poor decision. If LIV was one particular golfer it would be John Daly. They missed their chance there.

I watched a little bit of the coverage from Trump Bedminster last week and was struck again by the size of the galleries. See how few are following Patrick Reed.

I had the odd experience last week of my phone ping, ping, pinging with over 1,200 engagements on a two line tweet I posted after spotting this in Golf Digest:

“I hear Patrick Reed got $80 million to defect. The Saudis paid him $20 million, and the PGA Tour put up the other 60.”

Someone said that’s the first LIV joke. We need to find more to laugh about this because it’s getting deadly serious.

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Ben Hogan – Miracle Man

Ben Hogan, winner of 9 major championships including, in 1953, The Masters, US Open and The Open in one calendar year, was a miracle man in the same way that Tiger is now. His return, like Tiger’s, to competitive play after an horrific automobile accident is recounted in this wonderful story written, while Hogan was alive, by Henry Longhurst. Six of Hogan’s major championship wins were after this accident.

“How strange that the toughest character I have ever met should be connected not with wartime deeds of violence and daring, nor even with the fraternity of peace, but with the sedate, pedestrian game of golf.

Ben Hogan is what is known as a “hard case” a very hard case indeed. He hails from Texas, which is the home of hard cases. He is a small man, normal weight no more than 140 pounds, height about 5 feet 9 inches with smooth black hair, wide head, wide eyes and a wide mouth which tends, when the pressure is on, to contract into a think, straight pencil line. You could see him sitting at a poker table saying, expressionless “Your thousand – and another five”. He might have four aces or a pair of twos.

Those who watched professional golf in recent times have noted that most of the current American “aces” are big husky fellows. Given the same degree of skill, a strong big ‘un will hit the ball further than a strong little ‘un. Hogan, a very little ‘un indeed, set himself to find some method by which he could keep up with the big fellows. In the end he found it. This kept him up with his rivals. How could he beat them? How could. He, as the Americans so graphically put it, “get the edge” on this hard-bitten crew?

Coldly and deliberately, he decided he would do it by superior powers of concentration.  The process took some years, but he did it. He got his mind into such a condition that nothing, neither idiotic spectators, nor unlucky breaks, nor the trembling thought of “this for $5,000” (or $500,000,000 had he been playing today on the LIV Tour…) nothing, ever, would put him off, ever. Nothing prevented him playing at crucial moments the same sort of shots he could so easily unloose on the practice ground. 

In one tournament he stood pondering over a shot, cigarette midway between thin pursed lips. Then he flipped the cigarette to the ground, coldly drew out a club rather as a dentist picks an instrument from his tray, and hit the ball a colossal clout to the middle of the green. He did the same at the next, in each case about 10 yards from the hole, the sort of distance from which ordinary mortals hear small voices whispering “three putts”.  It was clear, however, that any voice that might whisper to Hogan at such moments would talk more in terms of “one putt?”  He took great pains in examining the line, picking up tiny obstructions and such-like, and then, again flipping away the cigarette, whose smoke curled silently up beside him in the still summer afternoon, he hit the ball firmly at the hole. Up and up it came “right between the eyes’ as it were, and at the last moment faded off amid the groans of the gallery to lie two inches awa.  He tied, of course, and then won the play off. Looking. Back, I realised from the moment I set eyes on him it never occurred to me that he wouldn’t win.  Thus Hogan reached the top, qualifying for a place among those whose names have become legends in the annals of sport.

Then in February 1949, Hogan and his wife Valerie, a pretty, dark, understanding woman who supported him on the tournament trail, drove off one sunny morning from the border Texas town of El Paso for the next tournament.  A little way out they ran into a patch of ground mist.  Fifteen seconds later they were lying in a tangled mass of metal on the roadside, given up for dead.

A bus had come out of the mist, bearing down on them in overtaking another car.  Hogan threw himself to his wife’s side and the steering column passed through the seat in which he had been sitting.  He was badly mangled about the hips and legs. As to the driver of the bus, without even returning to the car he telephoned the police that two people had been killed.

Such was the story Hogan told (to Henry Longhurst) on board the Queen Mary on his way to Britain later.  For some weeks he had lain pretty well at death’s door, and when at last a few intimate friends were admitted to his bedside they were hard put to keep from their expressions the shock they felt upon seeing the pale, gaunt little figure now diminished to 110 pounds.

Largely due to the mental powers he had developed on the golf course, Hogan won his battle for life and was eventually taken home.  Seven months later he was on his way to Britain as captain of the American Ryder Cup team. He was still wearing full-length elastic stockings and could walk only for about half an hour at a time. One talked of his being “temporarily out of the game” and so on, but I think there was only one man in the world who at the time thought Hogan might seriously play golf again, and that was Hogan.

It was in December that one of those highly coloured, pinch of salt American news agency reports filtered through to the effect that Hogan had not only played a round of golf, but he had holed the Colonial Club’s course at his home town of Fort Worth, Texas in 71 strokes.

Telephone calls poured in. Hogan’s reply was “Nonsense! He had hardly hit any long shots and had used a cart to get about on.  They were “only newspaper scores” he said. Then, just a yar after his accident, the news went out that Ben Hogan was to try his hand once again in the Los Angeles Open.

Nine thousand people turned up to give the little man a sympathetic and emotional cheer. The other 128 players, said an American writer “roamed the course unmolested”. They included Sam Snead who had jumped to the top as Hogan, literally, fell by the wayside.

Right at the start there was trouble.  Sharp words with the photographers seemed to show that Hogan’s steely control was no longer what it had been.  For a while stewards carried a sign “No cameras, please – player’s request”, but the irate photographers prevailed and the sign was withdrawn.  Pursued by his vast gallery, and seating himself between shots on a shooting stick.  Hogan got round in 73, well down the field.

Next day he shot 69 and his position improved.  On the final day bigger crowds than ever swarmed over the course.  Hole by hole, as he kept up the 4’s and 3’s, the tension increased.  Another 69.  One more like this and he might not only finish once more with the leaders.  He might even win.

Golf, perhaps through its very slowness, can reach the most extraordinary heights of tenseness and drama. Of all the great rounds ever played I would as soon have watched this last one of Hogan’s.  After a dozen holes he was well in the hunt, still shock-proof as ever but now clearly close to physical exhaustion.  Overweight at over 150lbs and hitting the ball less far than before, he was under pressure from all sides.  I can see him so well – the tightening of the lips, the discarded cigarette, and one more shot dispatched on its way.  Amid scenes of excitement unusual on a golf course, Ben Hogan finished once more in 69 for a total of 280.

As the day wore on, only Snead, the man who had stepped into his shoes, had a remote chance to catch him. At the 17th hole he holed a very long putt.  On the 18th he sank an even longer one, this time almost semi circular to tie.  Snead won the playoff, of course, but that was an anti climax no one cared about.  The glory was Hogan’s, for what is perhaps one of the most stirring comebacks in sporting history.

Among his comments in an interview afterward with Joe Williams of the New York World Telegram was: “This much I can tell you for sure, Joe.  There’s nothing about death that will ever frighten me again..”

In the meantime, as they say, he had settled with the bus company for $250,000 (around $6 million today) free of tax. 

And if that doesn’t prove he is a hard case, nothing does!”

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Mickelson emerges on social media from darkest Africa

After missing the cut at The Open Mickelson did not go home but instead went on a trip to Rwanda to visit a gorilla sanctuary (gorillas’s foot shown behind him).

He appeared on social media for the first time since February, in an official LIV video to welcome the newest recruit to their stable, broadcaster David Feherty. Gary McCord is also tipped to join him which will no doubt be a riot. This shows to me, in choosing those two to showcase the tournaments that LIV Golf is above all an entertainment product. It’s like winning thoroughbred racehorses being sold off to be show ponies performing tricks in a circus.

It’s interesting that Rwanda, one of the most dangerous places on earth, was chosen for this trip. My friend Angela took a year’s posting out there to be paid three times what she earnt in London, but she had to have two bodyguards with her everytime she wanted to go anywhere. I digress. The thought was I wonder what security he had in and around the gorilla sanctuary.

Looks like he and Prince Harry have swopped lives this week. As Prince Harry sits in California and Phil has gone to Africa where Harry did so much good.

Hopefully being with the gorillas has given some perspective. He dealt with hostility Open week, not least from the galleries. On the 14th tee on Friday someone shouted to his tee shot “go in the bunker!” to general concurrence from the rest of the spectators.

Social media has been aflame this week with arguments over LIV, particularly hostile on Ian Poulter’s Fan page. This is deep felt and angry, particularly about Henrik Stenson being stripped of the European Ryder Cup captaincy. What is needed perhaps is more humour e.g.

“Patrick Reed was reportedly paid $80,000,000 to join LIV.

They put up $20 million and the PGA Tour supplied the other $60 million”

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The importance of this picture

A week since the official photo of the Champions gathering at St Andrews I have looked at it a few times. The jokey waving spectres hanging over the clubhouse, the disinvited Norman, the pursuaded not to attend Mickelson. It seems the modern era begins with the two 86 year olds Gary Player and Bob Charles. Jack Nicklaus has said that this will be his last Champions dinner.

I looked at this picture and thought I didn’t see Player, Charles or Trevino win, but apart from them, I had seen all of these victories. Disappointing that Todd Hamilton and Ben Curtis did not make the trip. Particularly so as Thomas Bjorn, whose game collapsed in the final round in 2003, allowing Curtis to win, mused that “no amount of money could buy a seat at that table” and he thought about what might have been.

Tom Weiskopf, has been battling pancreatic cancer, but where are Nick Price, still active at 65, and Johnny Miller who only stopped broadcasting in 2019? For one last time, for the 150th Open, it was a huge shame not to have them together.

Those who have gone in this era, Seve, Roberto de Vincenzo, Tony Lema, Kel Nagle and Peter Thomson, much missed. And for this reason, even though the civil war raging through golf did cast a shadow, I feel Norman and Mickelson should have been present here. Whatever is happening now, this is a collective piece of history and this moment in time will never come back. It was a decision that could have been thought through even more deeply.

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Henrik Stenson stripped of Ryder Cup Captaincy

Henrik Stenson is due to join LIV golf imminently. Disappointing and bewildering decision that he agreed to take on the Ryder Cup Captaincy, knowing that he had been approached by the Saudi Investment Funded LIV Tour and was seriously considering it.

He should have declined the captaincy and not have made a two year commitment to the event. This has made a serious dent on European morale and caused damage. If he has decided that the money is the most important thing then it’s his decision, he should go. But to have agreed to have taken on the captaincy knowing that this was going to be a serious option, was not right.

How depressing and disappointing this week is going to be, after a magnificent Open Championship.

In the film Field of Dreams there was a saying “If you build it, they will come”. 

LIV golf are building their cast and are banking on the public coming and supporting their tournaments. 

But at the moment there is no proper broadcaster, and having attended a LIV event, I personally felt that the structure of the tournament was half-baked, not properly developed. They are depending on the public getting behind the teams. So much money has been thrown at this to secure the players for what at the moment looks like an immature product, brassily presented.  It may well attract a certain kind of fan – the ones who shout out “mashed potatoes’, “light the candle’ and “you’re the man”. LIV golf are welcome to them. In time these elite athletes will tire of playing in front a certain kind of fan. 

The journalism surrounding this this week has been biting.

Raith Al-Samarri

“What an astonishing mess this has become. LIV did not want Stenson, the once brilliant golfer who more recently has missed cuts in seven of the last nine majors.

They wanted a Ryder Cup captain as a means of weakening one of the great institutions of a sport they are taking over with vindictive cunning”.Despite contractual protections and assurances the Saudis got their man because disruption and destruction are their modus operandi. They have so far shot a dirty business equivalent of a round of 59″.

What this is is a destructive force of nature which is beginning to decimate the top of the European Tour in particular. But what happens if LIV golf fails to take off? The players won’t give back the money, they’ll just go off into the sunset. Perhaps this is how this whole sad civil war should be looked at. That there is a lot of work to be done to make this a worldwide viable product. Buying the players first has caused huge upset and disruption, but everyone is making a huge gamble here.

You may have built it. But the fans may not come.

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150th Open Championship Final Round

Those of us who were there at St Andrews on Sunday 17 July 2022 witnessed probably the best back nine in championship history. Cameron Smith’s five consecutive birdies from holes 10 to 14 dealt a devastating blow which leader Rory Mcilroy could not withstand. The vocal, partisan galleries roaring and willing him to bring it home, were silenced by the sheer brilliance that Cameron displayed.

Not that Rory played badly, at all. He had two birdies and pars, but he needed to progress the four shot lead he held at the start of the final round and play more aggressively.

“It’s really easy to get defensive out there and keep hitting it to 60 or 70 feet. You can make pars all day but you’re not going to make birdies” he said. He didn’t fail to get it done, he was just overtaken by somebody doing something phenomenal. He didn’t take advantage of the most birdiable holes, 12, 14 and 18. He said that things had not gone his way ad he needed to be a touch more aggressive going into the greens. He said that he was a much better player than he was even a year ago. His driving seemed to be even better and he is a wonderful driver of the ball and all week. His putting was good, it just went cold on Sunday.

Rory has had top 10 finishes in all four majors this year and never seemed to have played better. However, it’s a long wait now, another 8 months before he gets another attempt to win the Masters. “I’m disappointed but I got beaten by a better player” he said “I needed to respond to what Cameron was doing. But this year is going well and there will be other championships, other chances”.

“This is the biggest Open of our lifetime” he said. And indeed, against the background of what is going on in mens professional golf, it did seem to be a loud crescendo of all that had gone before, that everything had led to this.

I saw Cameron’s disgust with his Saturday round of 73 and thought then, he really wants this – there was a caring about what he was doing, and thought then if that’s his bad round out of the way, then he will be dangerous tomorrow. Indeed his strategy was to “make a ton of birdies and attack the round”

And attack he did. On the 10th his drive of 345 yard reached the fringe of the green, he chipped to 2 feet to make a birdie. On 11 his tee shot left a 16 foot putt which he holed for birdie. On the 12th his drive found the edge of the green. He putted to 11 foot from the pin and holed the putt. On 13 he found the fairway, got his approach on the green where he had double bogeyed on Saturday, and sank an 18 foot putt. The difficult 14thhole saw him hit a 315 yard drive to the left of the fairway, clear the green with his second shot where he chipped to 5 foot and birdied.

It was remorseless.

On the Road Hole he left his tee shot in a bunker and was careful on his approach, he took his putter from off the green to set up a par putt, the only time he really played defensively all day. By the 18th tee he was grinning as he was about to come home with a -20 score better than Tiger’s winning score in 2000.

“I had so much fun out there, I felt really comfortable. The pressure was there but I love feeling uncomfortable too”

His driving seemed to be the key to the strategy, he has improved his work ethic to spending many more hours on the range. Going forward he said he was enthusiastic about the Presidents Cup and the Tour Championship.

Although Cameron batted away a reporter’s direct question about his possible plans to join LIV he did not confirm or deny – he just said “I’ve just won The Open and you’re asking me that?”

“This one’s for Oz” said Cameron on being handed the claret jug, he follows his fellow Australian Kel Nagel, who won the Centenary Open in 1960. Double Open Champion Greg Norman, who was not invited to St Andrews, was jubilant “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oy, oy, oy” he screamed on his social media. All the more jubilant because persistent rumours about Cameron joining the LIV Tour will not go away. And Rory has been the most vocal defender of the PGA and DP World Tours. The next few weeks will see which way our new Open Champion jumps – hopefully he will take time out to have his first visit back to Australia in three years and do some serious thinking down there.

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Nicola Sturgeon visits St Andrews and talks to the R&A

First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, visited The Open at St Andrews this week. She hit some balls in the Swing Zone and also had talks with officials with the Royal & Ancient.

“I’ve been talking to Martin Slumbers and the team. There is an absolute commitment to make sure that Scotland is seen as the home of The Open and that we keep The Open coming here as regularly as it has done. The Open is enormously important and significant, so to have The Open here at an y time is very special and important but to have the 150th Championship here, the biggest ever, is monumental. Mrs Sturgeon also highlighted the need for support for Scotland’s council run municipal courses. Fandabidozi.

This week Mrs Sturgeon has once again set out the need for a second referendum on Scottish Independence. This raises the question that if Scotland were to become independent (and if Northern Ireland were to become part of a united Ireland) what would happen to their courses on The Open rota? St Andrews, Muirfield, Carnoustie, Royal Troon and Royal Portrush? And would the R&A have to move out of the clubhouse in St Andrews? ‘

Perhaps if that happened those who defiantly refer to The Open Championship as The British Open (including the journalists at Golf Digest and Tiger Woods) would finally have to call it by its proper name. If the hosting courses were legally not British any longer The Open would be called The Open and not The British Open ever again.

The past year has been a tense one in the mens professional game, and indeed it hasn’t been an underestimation to describe the split of golfers away to play on the LIV tour as bringing about a civil war. It’s been utterly depressing, bewildering and upsetting. And as the final round of the 2022 Open is being played we know that next week there will be more announcements of golfers who are defecting to LIV.

Who are these likely to be? I am watching Tommy Fleetwood progressing through the leaderboard and thinking, it’s probably him. Adam Scott, who this week has defended Greg Norman, could it be him? Justin Rose or Xander Schauffele? We. have to wait and see. But I am looking at Dustin Johnson at -13 on the leaderboard and it does matter now that a LIV golfer doesn’t become the Champion Golfer of the Year. It would be very significant if Rory McIlroy could win today.

Although this week has had undercurrents (the booing of Ian Poulter), the alleged ‘cold shouldering’ by lack of TV coverage and less than stellar pairings of the LIV golfers, this noise has been rhubarb going on in the background. It hasn’t overpowered the event. Indeed this has been a glorious, blessed relief from all of that. I just have a feeling in my bones that sooner or later the LIV golfers will return to the fold with their tails between their legs. I hope I’m right.

This has been my ninth Open at St Andrews, my 45th over all – I went to my first when I was 7, so yes I am that old. It’s been glorious and this year has been a magnificent highlight. It’s taken away the dark shadow of LIV, for a week at least.

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Rory on a mission

What a day. This is The Open that keeps on giving. There’s something in the air here, and now Rory McIlroy, who has been the defender of traditional golf, is tied for the lead going in to the final day. Perhaps he is on a mission. And not just a personal one. Although it has been a frustrating eight years since he last won a major and he was unable to play at the St Andrews Open of 2015, so there’s unfinished business, there may well be something else motivating him, to be a champion not associated with the new LIV tour.

Rory has seemed calm and serene all week. Even playing amongst a wall of partisan support willing him on he seems to be in control.  His near miss at The Masters this year seems to have re-energised his self belief, and golf seems to be fun again. He says that he thinks he is a much better player than he was 12 months ago and it shows.

His long lag putting seemed to be excellent and his magical holing of the bunker shot on hole 10 yesterday ignited the whole round. His ball striking seemed to be pure and even when he overshot the green on 17 his calm recovery for a bogey shows how even keeled he is mentally.

The crowd were with him, sweeping him along but he didn’t seem to be shaken out of what he called “his own little world”. There are a lot of vocal Americans here this week too sometimes shouting out bewildering things like “light the candle” or “mashed potatoes”. Do What? The home noise should drown that out on Sunday. The Rory Roar as we now know it. With 16 top 10s in the majors since 2015 he is the most in form player in the majors and he holds the course record, 63, at St Andrews from the 2010 Open. 

Viktor Hovland matched him shot for shot as they both carded 66s and his own round was incredible. 4 birdies in a row from the 3rd hole he also took advantage of the easier par 4s and the par 5s. He’s had a run of average performances and no top 10 in a major yet, but he is only 24. 

It was slightly shocking to see Cameron Smith not being able to capitalise on any opportunity in his round. He looked rather shell shocked when he came off the final green. Perhaps he has got his bad round out of the way and definitely he looks to be the most dangerous of the hunting pack. Hovland and McIlroy stand tied at -16 four shots clear of Cameron Smith and Cameron Young with Siu Wu Kim and Scottie Scheffler a further shot back.

This magnificent afternoon has set up the final day for a spectacular duel.  Let’s hope we get it. There has been an electric atmosphere amongst the galleries. The wind wasn’t a factor, making the tricky pin positions less dangerous than they could have been.

What has been noticeable this week is that Rory seems to have been much more businesslike, not a lot of engagement from him and his playing partners – apart from the deeply respectful tip of the cap to Tiger Woods as he came down the 18th fairway on Friday as Rory was heading out. 

One day more, one more dawn, one day more Rory. The Golfing Gods would say you’ve waited long enough.

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Sahith Theega six shots off the lead

I mentioned to the man from the Hindustani Times yesterday that I find Sahith Theegala one of the most interesting players I’ve ever seen. And one of the fastest i proving golfers on the planet too.

“I love it here ar St Andrews it’s absolutely the best” he said after finishing six shots off the lead. This afternoon will be the first time that a wider audience will get to see him play. But, since joining the PGA Tour last October he has had five top 10 finishes out of 25 starts. He’s now 66 in the world in his rookie year, one of the biggest improvements of any player.

His short game is so creative, it’s the nearest thing to Seve that we’re likely to see, But he shapes all of his shots, part of which may be attributed to the scoliocis, curvature of the spine, he has to live with. His head moves a lot on the downswing to compensate, you’ll see an almost side bend on the downswing. .But the comparisons to Seve are also in his talents as an escapologist. Wayward tee shots set up for escaping from near impossible situations. Boring he is not. Fascinated to see what he can do today.

The 6 foot 3 Californian’s father brought the family to America from India in 1987. Imagine if he could win tomorrow the explosion that could take place in the sport there. It would be a dream, but not an impossible one.

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