We have all been there – moping along the fairway thinking thank god this will soon be over – when suddenly a faint and distant light appears through the gloom. It may be represented by an old swing-thought, a new idea on addressing the ball, or a sudden realisation of what you’ve been doing wrong all day. Yes, you are reminded once again that even when having a shocker, each round of golf can offer something – if only that light, still obscure in the far-off murk, would shine a little brighter.
You are playing Mountain 5 at Phoenix which, having played the Lakes, makes this your 14th. After three-putting for yet another double-bogey, you take your ageing frame off towards the 15th tee, deep in thought as to what to try next. Arriving on the tee your caddie, sensing you need some sort of inspiration, passes you your driver and points to Buddha Mountain in the distance. “For you,” she says with a smile.
You look to where she is pointing and immediately you are struck – by both the beauty of what beholds you, and the beacon of light reflecting from what you know is the golden Buddha. You are inspired.
While enjoying a beer later that day your modest round of 26 stableford points doesn’t affect your mood one iota. It was the ten stablefords harvested from those last four holes that accounted for your sense of feel-good. The adage “seeing the light” comes to mind, but so too does the oft-repeated saying that there is something good to be taken out of every round of golf, no matter how events seem to conspire against you.
Want some more inspiration?
Last week saw Team Europe, the team that successfully retained the Ryder Cup just eight months ago, enter the European Tour’s flagship event – the BMW Championship – en-masse, apart from the injured Peter Hansen. That this event, played at Wentworth just outside of London, managed to attract so many of the Ryder Cup stars back from across the Atlantic was well received. Here was assembled the cream of European golf who, just a short while back at Medinah, Chicago, had pulled off what some argue the greatest comeback in the history of international sport, let alone golf or the Ryder Cup.
The first two days of that September tie had the Americans leading10-6, with just day three’s singles remaining. That Team Europe took eight wins from the 12 singles matches, with one halved, to earn an overall 14.5 to 13.5 win, was dubbed by media on both sides of the Atlantic The Miracle at Medinah.
Here then was the team, almost in its entirety, all set to contest Europe’s biggest event outside of the Open Championship. Organisers predicted record crowds, keen to follow their heroes as they teed it up, at Wentworth on Thursday morning. Anticipation of a leader board jammed with names of Ryder Cup heroes was understandably high.
But golf’s gods don’t do orthodoxy.
Following completion of round two on Friday, a mere half of that Ryder Cup team of 12 actually made the cut. Many of those missing were household names and included; McIlroy, Donald, McDowell, Lawrie and the undoubted star of last September’s monumental battle – Ian Poulter.
Of the six who remained, their final finishing positions come Sunday evening were: Molinari T9, Westwood T9, Garcia T19, Colsaerts T24, Kaymer T50 and Rose T50.
So where is the inspiration in that?
I mention the playing team of 12, but really the team consisted of many more, not least the captain, José María Olazabal, and his four vice-captains; Thomas Bjorn, Darren Clarke, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Paul McGinley. All five of these aging Ryder-cuppers of yesteryear also teed it up in the BMW Championship. Care to guess as to how they fared, especially given no less than half their much-vaunted playing charges missed the cut?
Of the five that formed the management of that fabulous Ryder Cup team, not one of them missed. That’s right, every one made the cut. Come Sunday and their best finish was Jimenez T4 (one shot off the play-off). The worst was Olazabal T69.
All five “oldies” teed it up against the flat-bellies and survived to play all four rounds. Not one of those five would admit to having a game as good as any of the five golfers named who missed the cut. They would all be out-driven by anything up to 50 yards plus by the younger pros. All are close to being eligible to play the Seniors Tour. Yet they prevailed – every one of them. Why?
Because they don’t recognise age as a handicap and they wanted it more.
Inspirational? Perhaps, but then came this:
At the completion of the regulation 72 holes, three were tied at 10-under; Manassero – the 20yo Italian whiz-kid, Scotland’s Marc Warren and Simon Khan from England. This story is about Khan who, despite winning this event three years back, was still ranked 384th in the world.
Warren was the first to depart at the initial play-off hole, after having to play another ball off the tee, then putting his approach into the water.
Manassero holed a tricky nine-footer to match Khan’s birdie to force the half. They then halved the same hole again, and again, before the Italian version of a young McIlroy managed to prevail and finally break the deadlock on the fourth play-off hole. In addition to winning about US$1million, Manassero also qualified for June’s US Open. This guy has some future.
Back to Khan. That he was crestfallen is rather stating the obvious. A win at the BMW would have meant US Open qualification which, at 40 years of age, is perhaps becoming a bridge too far. For any 40-year-old ranked as low as he is, they really need to take their opportunities when they present themselves. To lose out on such a chance after playing so well for four days, then hanging in for three play-off holes only to fall at the fourth, would indeed be hard to take. He walked off the 18th for the fifth time that day, at 6.30pm, somewhat dejected.
With the presentation and obligatory socialising over, Khan made the 90-minute journey to his Essex home. After a night spent wondering what could have been, he was up at dawn for the drive back across the city to Walton Heath. Here, starting at 7.00am, he would compete in a one-day, 36-hole, shoot-out with 93 other professionals for one of 12 US Open qualifying berths.
“I only slept for about half-an-hour, with everything going through my head,” Khan said. “I even thought about pulling out. But this is my job. And besides there are worse things to be doing on a Monday.”
Khan shot 67 and 70 to finish seven-under and top qualifier. He will be playing in the US Open after all.
That is inspirational.
Also qualifying was José María Olazábal, who survived a six-man play-off for the last five places.
There are no doubt better stories showcasing inspiration, but these ordeals occurred in the most recent event played on tour. That people such as the ageing Olazabal (relatively speaking), and his equally senior lieutenants can outscore so many younger players, players with superior games, shows neither age nor skill need be the barrier that many of us allow it to be.
The next time tired limbs or a bad day suggests the golf course is more suited to young men, remember this story.
As we have all heard many times, golf is a game played with the body by the mind – or 10% physical, 90% mental. Sure, we will continue to play bad shots. Sure, some shots will be just too difficult. And sometimes we will feel tired. But realise this – that from every round there is something to be learned, something to enjoy, something that will bring us back. Our never-ending challenge is to find it.
Whether it be Buddha’s beacon, the Ryder Cup Management team or Simon Khan, use whatever it takes.