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Every now and again, someone we would never have heard of will come along and do something fantastic. There's a freshness to what they do, and when you learn the backstory of what has happened to them, it's hard not to shed a tear or two like Southgate did when he secured a fourth place finish at the Irish Open:
Why was Southgate so emotional? Well it's to do with the horrendous 2015 that he had. The 28-year-old was trying to earn money on the Challenge Tour to help his two-year-old niece overcome leukemia. Southgate only earned €10,000 before he was diagnosed with testicular cancer.
Since then, he's had an operation - managed to get back in time to go through three gruelling stages of Q-school to earn his tour card. Southgate was in tears claiming his card for the full European Tour which earned him an entry into the Irish Open this week.
The fourth place finish from Southgate will earn him €200,000.
A top five finish this week also qualifies Southgate for the BMW PGA Championship next week, which is one of the flagship events on the European Tour.
No wonder he was celebrating
A 22-year-old ‘golf scientist’ with a pretentious hat and excruciatingly poor technique may have sparked a mini-revolution in the game.
Some of golf’s great characters and their foibles: John Daly was always perched on the edge of disaster; Payne Stewart wore funny clothes; Chi Chi Rodriguez sometimes pretended to be Zorro; Shooter McGavin blew imaginary smoke off the end of his gun finger. But what did they do that was really interesting? Did they think, for instance, that they should change golf? Did they even conceive of golf as something that needed changing?
Last week, at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship in Abu Dhabi, a 22-year-old amateur called Bryson DeChambeau – who last year won the US Amateur Championship, who is studying physics at university, who, while still in high school, told his father, “I think I can change the game of golf”, who describes himself as a “golfing scientist” – may be about to change golf. In fact, he may have already changed it.With an opening round of 64 – two shots better than Rory McIlroy’s opening round, which was described by Jordan Spieth as “a masterclass” – DeChambeau was the first round leader in a tournament including four of the world’s top six players, including the two just mentioned.
Apart from the shock of where had this guy come from, what was interesting was that he did it with a set of irons all cut to exactly the same length, 37.5 inches, the length of a standard seven iron. This is such a preposterous concept that it is hard to explain just how preposterous it is, because it’s so obvious.
DeChambaeau says it gives him the ability to create an easily repeatable swing plane, something that’s just not possible when every club’s a different length. This is so logical and thrilling an idea that it’s hard to understand why clubs were ever made different lengths in the first place.
Golf Digest looked into this last year and asked a whole heap of experts about it. One, a professor of mechanical engineering who has carried out numerous research projects into golf equipment said: “There is no practical and modern reason why irons should not be all the same length.”
How many times have we walked into a new job, picked up a new hobby, a new sport or whatever and seen some part of it that made us go, ‘Wow, that’s really stupid!’, and then slowly and steadily normalised that stupid thing until we reached the point where we scoffed at others who called it stupid? A great many times. How many times has Bryson DeChambeau done it? Probably never.
It’s not that nobody has thought about making all clubs the same length before – ideas almost never spring fully formed into a world ready to accept them – but they have never succeeded. Maybe they just needed a champion with an odd set up, a fundamentally flawed grip and a swing that makes coaches want to cry, all of which he has built from the ground up; experimenting on himself, ignoring experts, and achieving astonishing things.
Still, it’s such a preposterous act to turn up in your pretentious trademark flat cap, as an amateur, still basically a child, to a tournament studded with the best players in the world, and think you can just change so completely the way the game has been played for generations, calling yourself “a golfing scientist”.
Whether or not he becomes a fixture on the PGA tour after turning pro later this year, but more certainly if he does, he’s gonna be rich to heck and back. What golf scientist doesn’t want to cream he bejesus out of the club-endorsement gravy train?
If he can maintain a half decent record after turning pro, it is unlikely he will ever stop making headlines. He hits two different drives he calls ‘The Fairway Finder’ and ‘The Crank Ball’, he has the most madcap putting routine since Happy Gilmore and he uses water and epsom salts to determine which of his balls need to be chucked.
“You look at trends in humanity and most like following the norm,” he told Golfweek magazine. “But you’ve also got people like Einstein and George Washington; they stood out and capitalised on their differences and showed the world a little different side.”
Every club hack playing off mid to high double figures loves their seven iron because they can spank it like Tiger more often than just about any other club in their bag. Science shows that the longer the club , the less frequently club players hit the sweet spot. If he can get it to market in time, and market it right, ‘Bryson DeChambeau’s Set o’ Seven Irons’ could shift a million units on Father’s Day alone, and he could retire by Christmas, no longer needing to rely on slogging around the world in business class, living Hilton to Hilton, yelling at caddies from Pebble Beach to St Andrews.
He’ll be able to sit at home, hunched over physics textbooks, thinking about the time he outplayed Spieth and McIlroy in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship and he’ll never need to mention in his marketing material that he dropped off the leaderboard after a third round 78 and finished in a tie for 54th.
FROM THE HILLSIDE AT AUGUSTA NATIONAL one looks into a natural amphitheater and across a landscape of interlacing fairways and greens, golden sand and blue-green stately pines. The old Berckman’s nursery fills smooth valleys and soft hills to the far edges of Amen Corner with a maze of color: azalea, dogwood, and redbud. In so many ways, this ancient acreage and southern plantation club house still has the look, code and culture of those antebellum times.
It is, also, a very modern golf course, as architect Robert Trent Jones defined it in The Complete Golfer. Jones wrote, "The Augusta National is the epitome of the type of course which appeals most keenly to the American taste, the meadowland course. From tee to green there is nothing but closely cropped green turf. These broad expanses of fairway, punctuated with pines and dotted with flashes of white sand, give Augusta a clean, sprightly appearance."
A Hacker and a Legend
Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts.The happenstance of life that has brought into creation Augusta National and the Masters Tournament began at the Vanderbilt Hotel in New York City, through a mutual friendship with Walton H. Marshall, who operated the hotel, plus a chain of other hotels that included the Bon Air Vanderbilt Hotel in Augusta, Georgia. Marshall was a close friend of two unlikely golfers. A hacker named Clifford Roberts and America’s greatest amateur, Bobby Jones.
Successful Wall Street mogul Clifford Roberts lived in New York and wintered in Augusta which, at the time, was a favorite resort for northerners, being just 137 feet above sea level. Roberts, years earlier, as a lowly private in the U.S. Army, had gone through basic training at a base near Augusta, and served his country in World War I.
Roberts was also a fan of Bobby Jones and it was only a matter of time before their two worlds connected at the Vanderbilt. However, Roberts writes in his book, The Story of the Augusta National Golf Club, that he first met Bobby Jones in 1926 while watching the finals of the 1926 USGA Amateur Championship at Baltusrol Country Club in New Jersey.
Soon after the Vanderbilt introduction Jones and Roberts became fast friends and golf partners in Augusta, where Roberts was there as a snowbird and Jones drove from his home in Atlanta, both to play golf. When Jones expressed a desire to find a course where he could play without attracting a crowd of spectators, Roberts came up with a plan where they might build a course—one of Jones’s cherished ambitions now that he had retired from competitive golf and was working as a lawyer in Georgia.
It so happened that Fruitlands Nurseries on the south side of Augusta was for sale. The 365 acres of the former Berckmans farm was priced at $60,000 and Roberts pulled together a small group of wealthy New York businessmen (and players) to buy the property. Jones hired the famous golf architect, Dr. Alister Mackenzie to design the course. The deal was done in 1931.
Years later, Bobby Jones would write, "I shall never forget my first visit to the property. The long lane of magnolias through which we approached was beautiful. The old manor house with its cupola and walls of masonry two feet thick was charming .... [When] I walked out on the grass terrace under the big trees behind the house and looked down over the property, the experience was unforgettable. It seemed that this land had been lying here for years waiting for someone to lay a golf course upon it. Indeed, it even looked as though it already were a golf course ....”
The first years were difficult as the club came into being at the height of the Depression. The first Masters was played in 1934, two years after the course was finished. In those early years Roberts had to hit up the members to cover expenses and tournament prizes.
Quickly, however, Augusta National and the Masters found its way into the consciousness of all golfers. Gene Sarazen’s double eagle in its second year, and sports writer and Augusta member Grantland Rice’s captivated summation of the double-eagle as "The Shot Heard Around the World" promoted this first major of the year. Played in April, the tournament filled the sports pages of every newspaper while the country waited for the opening of the baseball season.
As chairman of Augusta National and the Masters Tournament, Roberts was keenly aware and considerate of his "patrons" as he referred to spectators. Augusta National led the way in providing physical facilities to help the public watch the tournament. Roberts was the first to install the over-under par system of scorekeeping, gallery ropes and grandstands, pairings of twosomes rather than threesomes and complimentary pairing sheets. He also used his power to reduce both the chatter and the commercial breaks on Masters broadcasts for later television viewers.
In fact, while Roberts, and in turn Augusta National, were receiving negative criticism for their closed society and were a symbol of what was wrong with private golf clubs, Roberts, especially, was being praised for having the ability to push corporations like CBS around, forcing the network to obey the club’s ideals of propriety and anti-commercialism. Golf fans of all stripes responded to Robert’s emphasis on the history, tradition and values Augusta National placed on the Masters Tournament and the game of golf.
It was Clifford Roberts, in fact, through his long tenure as chairman of the Masters Tournament who made Augusta National what it is today and changed so dramatically the stature of professional golf in America.
Once again early April brings us a welcome start to the golfing season.The Grand National,The Boat Race and of course the 79th Masters golf tournament.
The Augusta National Golf Club was founded in 1933 by Clifford Roberts and Bobby Jones and the first Masters Tournament was played the following year in 1934,won by Horton Smith.
Clifford Roberts was chairman of the club from 1934 through to 1976 and was seen by many as a `benevolent dictator` and a bit of a perfectionist.In one example of how desperate he was for the Masters to be “perfect,” he asked BobbyJones (friend) not come to the Masters, because Jones, enfeebled by Lou Gehrig’s Disease, would be a distraction from the festivities.
It was not until 1975 that Lee Elder became the first black golfer to play in the Masters.Clifford Roberts once said
"As long as I am alive all golfers will be white and all the caddies will be black." In 1997 Tiger Woods (a black golfer) won the Masters with a white caddie,shattering the mirror that Robert`s vision had reflected.Woods,who has won 14 majors,changed the face of golf in more ways than one.Not only is the best golfer of this era not white,Wood`s success has helped push the black caddie to the brink of extinction.
Let`s hope this week produces a great Masters and a worthy winner,whether he is white,black,green or purple and if some of the caddies are from the planet Zob,so be it
Severiano Ballesteros Sota
My first recollection of Seve Ballesteros was as a 13 year old,watching him finish second to Johnny Miller in the 1976 Open at Royal Birkdale.That performance catapulted him to world fame and remembered for that delightful chip shot on the last hole,running the ball between two bunkers to less than three feet.The intense look on his face and his courage from that day onwards mesmerised the masses. Seve was the Arnold Palmer of Europe,a fiery,charismatic,handsome,swashbuckling,risk taking player whose star power elevated the European Tour to new levels and single handedly changed the face of the Ryder Cup,making it the event it is today.
What made Seve truly special was an ability to connect with spectators.Part of it was his gift for improvising some of the most improbable recovery shots in the history of the game.Another element was with the pure passion with which Seve performed.This was never more evident than in his ultimate moment on the final green at St.Andrews in the 1984 Open,when his 15 foot birdie putt barely crawled into the high side of the hole,he began a series of right handed thrusts into the sky which also served as salutes to his adoring fans packed around the green.
I was fortunate enough to see Seve play in the 1980`s and on several occasions stood a matter of yards from him,those images will stick with me forever. Seve....thank you for the memories.