A friend who is a keen golfer and ardent follower of the sport reminds me just how successful British and European golf is at the moment. And for me the top sporting experience of the year was not any of England’s many and deserved cricketing triumphs, good though they were, but the four days my wife and I spent at Royal St George’s watching the Open Championship. This was sport at its peak both in respect of the quality of the golf played over the four days and the wonderful end game in which Darren Clarke was triumphant. Tiger Woods apart all of the world’s top golfers were at Sandwich and is was a delight to see some living legends of the game, like Tom Watson, as well as the impressive and precociously young rising stars like Rickie Fowler and the British amateur Tom Lewis. Oddly the British players who have risen to the top of the world rankings, Donald, Westwood and McIlroy and those close by – Rose, Poulter and Casey all had a poor Championship. But that was swiftly forgotten as we celebrated Clarke’s triumph. Golf crowds in my experience are generous in their applause and well-behaved (I’ve never been to a tournament in the United States) and that was certainly the case at The Open. To this the players responded and there were a few moments which would grace any sport – Tom Watson’s smile at the end of the second round not because of his play (good though it was) nor because of his hole in one at the sixth but because his playing partner, 20 year old Tom Lewis, had followed his opening 65 with a solid 74 to make the cut.

The “Tiger effect” on golf has been good, bad and ugly. Good because it undoubtedly raised the profile of the game. Bad because it detracted somewhat from Tiger’s contemporaries as so much of the media attention was on Woods. And ugly because it eventually emerged that the Emperor had no clothes (or no trousers anyway) and that beneath the commercially burnished exterior there was a disturbed, dysfunctional and struggling human being. Well behaved though they generally are pro golfers are not saints and from time to time they set a pretty bad example. The American team in the Ryder Cup has a simplistic chauvinism about it that is stomach churning to the more urbane European eye. When they had a pre-tournament pep talk from an Army major last year it inspired Phil Mickleson to comment “I feel proud to be part of a country that cares about the civil rights of people all throughout the world and not just in our own country,” Hmm!

The top golfers are multi-millionaires and used to a lifestyle that is beyond the imaginings of most of us. I have no problem with this because below that top tier are hundreds hoping to make it and not living in the lap of luxury whilst they do so. Ian Poulter recently tweeted when someone criticised his poor performance in a tournament “You think I’m going to lie here feeling sorry having worked in a pro shop for 7 years earning $200 a week. Enjoy what you work hard for.” A nice piece of honesty from Poults – and few would disagree with his sentiment. Poulter is the archetypical Ryder Cup competitor – fiercely proud and a great team man. Woods never really delivered in the Cup what his talent should have given – and the contrast between the striving for individual glory of Tiger and the authentic team focus of Poulter and the rest of his European colleagues has been marked. Golf is such an individual game that it takes something special to blend rivals together but with Britain and/or Europe holding the Ryder, Walker, and Solheim Cups (and GB and Ireland the Seve Trophy) we must be doing something right this side of the Atlantic! Long may it continue – and let’s hope that Donald, Westwood , Casey, Rose and our other very good British pros can find a way to follow Clarke’s triumph ( and those of McIlroy and McDowell) and bag themselves a Major or two soon.

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