- First of all, Royal County Down looks a cracking golf course and one that would be great to play - on a calm day. Even then, net par would be something of a challenge, but it'd be one to relish. A true test of golf.
- Okay, so the rain fell, the wind blew and the sun shone, but there was some really slow play along the way that made the England v New Zealand cricket match, the European triathlon and rugby league tempting viewing alternatives for even a diehard golfer. Something needs to happen to speed up certain golfers and, to help with viewing figures, it needs to include a cattle prod.
- I don't care how good a golfer you are, your prime responsibility on the course has to be the safety of others. Also, I don't care how many marshals are behind you with silly signs to wave when they finally realise where your ball is heading. This is the one time on the course when ego really has to go out of the window. The responsibility of shouting Fore! to warn others of their impending doom is down to you and you should shout as quickly possible - even if it makes you look a bit of a flop when your voice starts to go because of the number of times you've had to shout.
- Rory McIlroy should be used to the pressures of a major tournament by now, so I wonder if there was something else behind his first-round 80... something that he doesn't usually have to contemplate? How about the fact that before the tournament started, he declared he would donate his winnings to the Rory Foundation, where it would be used to help children facing up to cancer one way or another? All of a sudden, you're not playing just for yourself; you're playing for hundreds of kids who will benefit if you succeed and won't if you fail.
- Kudos, though, to McIlroy and the work he helps to fund through the Rory Foundation. And kudos for hanging around over the weekend, to make sure the charity benefited as much as possible from the event. When pros who miss the cut are normally at the airport before their final putt has barely hit the bottom of the hole, it was good to see.
The challenge, the weather, egos and pressure - a few thoughts on the last four days in Northern Ireland...
This is the second idea in the blog series “How do we make golf more attractive”. I recognise that these ideas may not be original, although they were to me when I came up with them. Comments and your own ideas welcome!
How about a mini Ryder Cup, played out between two teams of twelve (or eight, or even four) over 18 holes?
Go out as a four-ball with one pair from each team as per each captain’s team order.
The entire round is played matchplay but with four points available in total for foursomes (first six holes), fourballs (middle six) and then two games of singles for the last six.
It adds variety to the round, gives everyone the opportunity to recover from a poor start and to contribute to the team score and – being matchplay – should be reasonably speedy.
The format could be used between golf clubs, between different groups at the same club or – if each team consisted of four or eight players – on a club league basis, to be run throughout the season.
There’s been a lot of talk over the last few months on how we can improve the popularity of golf – either by increasing the numbers of people playing the sport or by increasing the number of rounds played by current participants.
Mostly, the discussion has centred on reducing the amount of time required to complete a round, reviewing the rules and relaxing the standards required to walk onto the course and play the game.
After a bottle or two of Sauvignon Blanc and a bag of chipsticks, I have come up with four proposals, which I will try to explain over the next four blog posts.
The first proposal involves simple changes to the way the game is currently played, in order to cut the time requirement for golfers wanting to play an 18-hole round.
The others are variations on the game itself. I’d be interested to hear your comments on any or all of them and I’d like to hear any ideas of your own.
Anyway, here are my proposed changes to the way the game is currently played. Welcome to the Magnificent Seven!
None of these are fundamental changes to the game of golf, although I will understand if die-hards have an issue with honours on the tee. Indeed, most are what we should be doing already.
However, I think if they were all adopted by everybody, we could be saving 30 to 40 minutes a round. And surely we’d all welcome that?
Rory McIlroy isn't a great fan of Wentworth, despite winning the 2014 PGA Championship at the course. This year wasn't any different, with the world's best golfer actually losing his composure and slinging a club on day one, before missing the cut on day two.
He's had a busy few weeks and has quite a few more to come. A weekend off will do him good. In fact, looking at his record, this missed cut shouldn't come as a shock.
The fact is Rory blows hot and cold. It's just that when he's hot, he's very hot.
The proof? He's been a pro for seven years. In that time, he's missed 30 cuts – yet probably every golfer on the Tour would happily swap their results for his.
It just shows this game isn’t about perfection. It’s about getting it right at the right time. And it’s about how you respond when things don’t go so well. The smart money will be on Mr McIlroy to bounce back from this latest setback.
Incidentally, over a ten-year period, between 1998 and 2008, a certain Tiger Woods missed the cut just three times - a phenomenal achievement.
The 12th hole at Lingdale is a short par 4 with a demanding uphill fairway and a well defended green. It's our 'heart attack hill', described in You! A Golf Guru! as a training ground for Himalayan Sherpas.
By the time you hit your second shot - and possibly your third - you're breathing heavily. Landing your ball on a smallish, devilishly-undulating green protected by two bunkers at the front and a steep bank at the back with out-of-bounds beyond is tricky at the best of times. You need to factor in the swirling wind on the exposed hillside, pick the right club and commit to the shot.
Picking the right club is key. Be aware of the effect of oxygen deprivation on the brain after your uphill trek to your ball. Don't try to chip it over the bunkers onto the green with an eight iron. Certainly, don't try it for consecutive shots when the first has failed quite spectacularly.
And whatever you do, don't then decide to launch your club across the green into the silent and forbidding wood to your right. Because those trees hate golfers - probably due to the thousands of times they have been urinated on over the decades.
Your eight iron won't hit a few branches and fall a little sadly to the ground, waiting to be picked up and rammed back into the golf bag before being abused again a bit later. Oh no. It will remain high in the tree and the wind will move the branches around a little to shift the club into a more secure position and to camouflage its location. Take your eye of its last known position for a split second and not only will you lose its location, you'll also lose the actual tree it was in.
Word will get around the club and many will laugh at the story. But all will cast a wary eye treewards whenever they walk through the woods to the right of the 12th green, because you never know when the eight iron will be returned - or whose head it will land on in the process.
True story, courtesy of Clive Brakes.
If you ever needed proof that Phil Mickelson's a great bloke, then it starts about 2 minutes 11 seconds into this video.
It's August 2014 and the tournament is The Barclays, in Paramus, New Jersey. Mickelson tries to drive the par-4 fifth hole, but his tee shot ends up in a hospitality area on a raised platform to the left of the green.
Turning down several offers of beer, he hits a recovery shot off the platform floor between the tables, over several rows of chairs and a safety barrier into a greenside bunker. He eventually walks off with a bogey.
It was a typical Phil Mickelson hole (except he didn't walk off with a par or a birdie), but the most impressive part of the whole incident happened after he'd taken his shot from on high, acknowledged the whoops and hollers with his trademark grin and descended the steps at the side of the stand.
Walking back to the course and already focussing on his next shot, he noticed a young boy who had moved to greet him before - realising the game situation - hesitating and stopping in his tracks.
Mickelson could have been forgiven for walking straight past the kid - he was halfway through playing a hole after all. I reckon any other golfer on the Tour would have done just that. But not Phil.
Instead, he stretches out his arm and shares a fist bump before carrying on with his round. It was over in a second. It was so quick, the TV commentators didn't pick up on it, but it made that kid's day.
The man is sheer class.
According to a Sports Illustrated-sponsored anonymous poll of PGA professional golfers, Rickie Fowler and Ian Poulter between them captured almost one half of the votes cast in the 'most overrated' category.
That's Rickie Fowler, who finished in the top five of each Major in 2014 and who has won this year's TPC Sawgrass event. And Ian Poulter, who has won 12 events in Europe, two in the States, been a star in Europe's Ryder Cup team and who has grossed around £11 million in winnings to date.
But that doesn't bother me.
And in another recent survey of professional golfers, Bubba Watson was voted most hated golfer on the circuit - someone so despised that many of his fellow professionals stated they wouldn't go to his aid if he was involved in a car park fist fight. Incidentally, Bubba came third in the most overrated vote, despite winning the Masters twice.
But that doesn't bother me either.
What does bother me is why these surveys are done in the first place.
If they're to spice up our interest in golf, they fail miserably. The success records of the most 'overrated' speak for themselves and their high ranking in the survey only shows how bitter and resentful the less talented in the field can be.
The most hated golfer tag came with no reasons attached, so we don't know if Bubba sacrifices kittens before each round, sneaks stink bombs into unsuspecting competitors' bags or is so high profile off the course that others resent him for it. Without the detail, the soubriquet has no value and is meaningless.
Furthermore, the fact that these surveys are anonymous means we have no way of verifying their authenticity. For all we know, they've been concocted by the sponsors either to generate some publicity or because for some reason they have an agenda to pursue against certain golfers.
So, if you're planning a 'survey' of professional golfers in the future, here's what they're looking for, according to my survey (yeah, right) of the same sample (anonymity guaranteed, of course)...
That way the golfing public will be able to judge on the validity of the vote, plus there will be added spice for viewers and participants whenever a voter and their nominee are drawn out of the hat together at future events.
Pre-tournament press conferences could be like big fight weigh-ins.
Golfers could enter the first tee box accompanied by a huge entourage and blaring rock music. The starter could get things started with a "Let's get ready to rumble!"
Players could bad-mouth each other during the round and a panel of judges would decide on the winner if the match was all-square after eighteen.
If you're looking to spice things up and attract a new audience, there's your chance... although I'm not sure how it would go down with the current fan base.
Any ideas or views?
The photograph on the cover of You! A Golf Guru! (also at the top of this page) was taken early one Sunday morning in December 2013, when I noticed a thin mist rising from the ground as the mild warmth of the winter sun found the seventh green and the eighth fairway on Western Park golf course in Leicester.
Fortunately, I had my smartphone with me and it only took a few seconds to whip it out of my bag and to fire off a couple of shots.
At the time, I reckoned they’d look good on my Facebook page (which they did) and as the wallpaper on my Mac (ditto), but I had no idea that one of them would end up taking pride of place on the cover of the book. At the time, I was up to my eyes in writing the first draft and I hadn’t given the design any thought.
Even two months ago, the front cover was to be a combination of my thoughts and the wonderful, creative talent that was Julie Grimes. We had just started work on the initial concepts when Julie fell ill and, tragically, died just a few short weeks later.
After coming to terms with the sudden loss of this very special lady and finally getting round to revisiting this project, it was very obvious to me that the cover should include one of the photographs I had taken, for three very different reasons.
Firstly, the picture was going to appear inside the book anyway, so a promotion to the front cover where it could be seen in full colour, glossy glory made sense.
Secondly, there is an ethereal quality to the shot, which works well with the guru theme.
Finally - and perhaps most importantly – it is there to publicise the potential demise of the course.
Western Park is a municipal golf course and the municipality in this case – Leicester City Council – is looking to close the course later this year.
Ostensibly, this is because it is currently costing the council around £120,000 a year to subsidise it. Given the current state of the economy and the unattractive promise of even more swingeing financial cutbacks over the next few years, it is understandable that loss-making council assets come under the microscope.
However, this isn’t about the saving of £120,000 per annum. Anyone with an iota of commercial sense could see how this cash could be saved through a combination of partnership and investment.
No. Despite the Mayoral protestations, this is all about how much revenue can be earned by selling off a substantial piece of land (handily close to the motorway network) to commercial and housing developers and then reaping the council tax from the resulting properties.
Never mind the fact that Leicester loses a significant and attractive piece of greenbelt forever. Ignore the 105 years of history and the opportunity the course has provided for thousands and thousands of golfers over the years – either to try out the sport, to embrace it or just to grab some fresh air and exercise every week. Forget the young golfers who won’t be able to make the trek across the city to the other municipal course, who can’t afford the fees of private clubs and so will be lost to the game as a result.
Eventually this economic nightmare will disappear. So will the current Mayor; he can’t go on forever. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the consequences of his decision about Western Park.
It’s difficult to avoid hints and tips on how to improve your game. They’re all over the place – online, in print and also available in human form whenever you step on a golf course.
Of course, you may not necessarily want to avoid them. After all, who amongst us doesn’t want to improve?
However, the right time and place to receive such valuable nuggets is when you’re ready for them – not when you’re over your fourth short putt of the round and have yet to sink any of them, or when you’re standing on a tee trying to focus on a steady swing that won’t result in a slice into the beckoning water or trees by the side of the fairway.
I thought I’d drop my favourite tip in here, so you can read it whenever you like (and not when it’d be as welcome as Nigel Farage at a foreign HIV patients convention).
I can’t claim credit for the advice – I think it comes from Bob Rotella. It concerns how to judge how hard you should hit the ball on the putting green and can be summed up in four words – don’t think about it.
Essentially, putting successfully relies on hitting the ball on the right line and at the right pace to drop into the hole.
The tip is to halve the amount you have to work out by ignoring the pace. Leave that to your brain.
When you pick up your playing partner’s ball after a gimme and throw it back to them, you don’t stop to calculate distance, trajectory or wind speed and direction. You just throw it and invariably it reaches them. Your brain automatically calculates what needs to be calculated, transfers the information to your arm and voila!
The beauty of this tip is it can be tried out on the practice putting green rather than in the heat of battle. Give it a go. Just line up putts of varying distances and hit the ball. I think you’ll be surprised at how good you are at judging the distance. Which just leaves you to work out the line…
Anyway, that’s my best tip. It works for me and you’re welcome to it.
Now it’s your turn. What gem of advice works for you?