Golf: First Tee - New-look Olly takes a battering

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The Independent Online
WHAT, I enquired of the man with the green eyeshades and the gold fillings, are the odds on Jose Maria Olazabal winning the US Open. Fortified, as most punters are, by self-delusion, a price of 33-1 was irresistible.

The poor bookmakers, already booking their holidays to the Bahamas on the strength of the favourites going backwards at Royal Ascot, were clearly not aware that the Masters champion had arrived in North Carolina in prime form, having shot a 62 at Memphis. Not only that but Pinehurst is a shot- maker's course and you don't get many better shot-makers than Olazabal. Unfortunately, you don't get many better wall punchers either.

In smashing his right hand against a hotel room wall following a disappointing first round, the Spaniard broke a bone that not only caused him to miss the rest of the US Open but makes him extremely doubtful for the Open championship in Scotland next month.

So this is the new model Olazabal, who is supposed to have seen a serene light since recovering from a serious foot injury. "I'm more patient," he told Golf International. "I don't get so angry with myself. I accept more easily the bad things." It is just as well Olazabal punched the wall rather than kicked it as he might have had another 18-month break to rediscover the inner calm he lost at Pinehurst.

One to one to birdie

PLAYERS OFTEN complain about having to hit "blind" shots to the green. To Chris Bartlett, who lost his sight in an accident three years ago, every shot is blind, although he has devised an ingenious system to help him overcome his handicap.

"You put your cellphone in the hole, dial it from another mobile and aim at the sound," Bartlett said. Mobile phones are anathema to most courses and the Royal and Ancient at St Andrews are unlikely to look favourably upon Bartlett's breach of the rules, handicap or no handicap.

Remember Casey Martin? Afflicted with a blood disorder, he negotiated the US Open last year in a buggy and caused near apoplexy among the game's governing bodies. Not that that would bother Bartlett, a New Zealander whose best round is 104 on his local course, Duck Creek, for, like Martin, he is poised to scribble a footnote in history. He will be the first golfer to drive a ball in the new Millennium.

Gisborne, on the east coast of New Zealand's north island, is recognised as the first town in the world to see in the year 2000 and Bartlett, accompanied by his guide dog Wallace, will play a shot from Gisborne Wharf into the harbour. It is hoped that Wallace, a golden retriever, will be discouraged from following the ball.

The short story...

CARL MASON is considered an old pro but everything's relative. Compared to some of the competitors at the British Professional Short Course Championship, Mason is an apprentice. There were the octogenarians Max Faulkner and Charlie Ward and 90-year-old Burt Gadd who plays twice a week off a handicap of eight.

When Alf Padgham won the inaugural event in 1933 he received pounds 30 which was presented to him in pennies and halfpennies in a wheelbarrow. When Mason took the title on Friday he won pounds 5,000 in pounds 1 coins. The Short Course Championship was a popular event for 40 years until it was dropped from the calendar in 1973. It was revived last year over the 1,023-yard par- 27 Cromwell course at Nailcote Hall, near Coventry, and drew support from European Tour players. For one thing, rounds don't take an agonising five hours. The world's only other short game championship is held at Augusta the day before the Masters.

...and the short answer

GOD FORBID that David Duval should win the US Open this evening. It's not that we have anything against Duval, apart from his unfortunate habit of spitting, but we fear he might never recover from the winner's press conference.

The following is an extract of what the world No 1 was subjected to in the media centre on the eve of the championship. "You don't recognise me, David, but I know your father. Well, we actually played golf when you were in college up in Ponte Vedra and I wrote a column saying you would be the next Jack Nicklaus, so a lot of people kind of think I know something but I don't. I'm with the local radio station and I'm also a cartoonist. You've lost a lot of weight since I last saw you. They say you're healthy but let me ask you, with the advent of rain how is it going to affect your chances? We have heard that guys like you, the long hitters, would have an advantage. Would it be a disadvantage if it rains?"

"No," Duval replied. And that was the first question he faced.

Earl's a sinner

THE SINS of the fathers... when Tiger Woods hits Carnoustie for the Open next month, his father, Earl, might have some explaining to do. "Scotland sucks," was Earl's considered observation of the home of golf. "Golf would never have been invented if the soul brothers lived there. We wouldn't have been stupid enough to go out in that weather and play a silly-ass game and freeze to death." Woods senior denied making the remarks but, aside from the fact that his son is in the process of making a billion from the "silly-ass game", he is, of course, quite right.

Hogan's heroine

WHEN VALERIE HOGAN - her husband died two years ago aged 84 - opened the Ben Hogan room at the US Golf Association Museum in New Jersey last week, she said she still followed the game. Asked if anybody reminded her of Ben she said: "No." Certainly not the actor Glenn Ford.

In Follow The Sun, the film on the life of Hogan, Ford got the lead role after convincing the producers he could play golf. It turned out he was about as useful as Gerald Ford. "Glenn worked so hard but he didn't know how to play," Mrs Hogan revealed. They should have cast Dean Martin. Not only could Dino play but he would have made Hogan, a man of so few words that "good morning" amounted to the Gettysburg Address, seem interesting.