Golf: Mysterious ways of the super six

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The Independent Online
IF THE leader board suggests relative anonymity, the who rather than a who's who of golf, there are compensations.

Staff at The Belfry, where brutal gusts yesterday played havoc with aspirations in the English Open Championship, have noticed a significant and pleasing difference: the players are competitive but friendly: no icons about the place.

It is an ill wind and all that stuff - that six of the finest golfers, five with major championships to their names, are not splashing around the fairways and trying to keep their swings intact. Some people are understandably miffed.

For reasons best known to themselves, or perhaps their advisers, Severiano Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Bernard Langer, Sandy Lyle, Jose- Maria Olazabal and Ian Woosnam have not shown up to play on a course where the Ryder Cup will be held for the third time next year.

The public has been disappointed by the non-appearance of the super six, as they are now facetiously referred to, the sponsors, Murphy's, have been embarrassed and fresh emphasis has been given to the thorny issue of appearance money.

In accordance with PGA regulations none was officially on offer at The Belfry. 'We don't have a big budget and thought that prize- money of pounds 550,000 (the winning cheque is only slightly less than Faldo collected for his victory in the Open), was enough. There was nothing more we could have done,' a Murphy's representative said.

The PGA requires members of the Tour to turn out in a minimum of nine events. So far this season Ballesteros, Faldo, Langer, Lyle and Olazabal have appeared in 11 of 30, Woosnam in 12.

As with most things in sport there is a convenient way of circumnavigating the PGA's objections to appearance money. This usually takes the form of 'shoot- outs' or teaching clinics which provide the top players with ancillary guarantees.

Disappointingly for lesser men trying to break through, and those who frequently experience financial difficulties when attempting to sustain a presence on the Tour, this cuts into prize-money.

Hence the disappointment felt by numerous challengers at The Belfry where more than pounds 500,000 is being spent to make the course more challenging, and to improve it for the spectators. The best of the rest, as somebody described them, deserved better than weather conditions more appropriate to Cape Horn than a corner of Warwickshire. The wind blew up so strongly at times that even players with the advantage of a low centre of gravity were often in danger of being blown off their feet when settling over a putt.

In such diabolical circumstances, a birdie was an achievement, the colour red as sparse on the leader board at the end of the day as it became on the map of the world when British statesmen sensibly concluded that it was time to give away an empire.

How the super six would have fared is a matter for conjecture. But whatever the reasons, cynical or practical, their absence is regrettable.

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