Golf: New guise for the old guys

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GOING further back than some of us find it comfortable to remember, space would have been at a premium around the efforts of a threesome who won consistently and included the holder of two major championships.

Apart from nostalgia buffs and some loyal representatives of a third generation and beyond, Tony Jacklin, Malcolm Gregson and Peter Oosterhuis found themselves playing to a small and steadily diminishing gallery at Wentworth, which was a shame because they were among the earliest tyros of an era in golf that has seen millionaires grow thick on the ground.

Watching them at work on the putting green before going off early in the afternoon, a veteran golf writer thought he'd been taken back in time. 'Oh, they look older,' he said, 'but the mannerisms are still there and you begin to think about other days in the game.'

For the reason that he is an extremely tall and now burly man, none of them looked more distinctive than Oosterhuis, who carved himself a considerable niche in the history of British golf before trying his luck in the United States.

Even experienced observers of professional golf now have to check that his bold decision was taken around 15 years ago, because Oosterhuis had more or less dropped out of sight, the director of golf at the Riveria Club in Los Angeles before he decided to return and play on the European tour.

As time waits for no golfer, and he is considerably on the wrong side of 40, it is said to have astonished some of Oosterhuis's friends who probably warned against the sort of experience he had to endure when reintroduced to the hazards of Wentworth's west coast.

Oosterhuis's hopes of an encouraging start disappeared when he took five at the first. Three more shots went before he got to the turn and, maddeningly, it was his short game, once the strongest feature, that was letting him down.

Coming across them at the 14th green, first identifying Jacklin, a spectator turned to his friend and said: 'The old guys, eh.' In golfing terms, yes, although one gorgeous chip or a perfect long putt can rekindle the old enthusiasm.

Still seeking inspiration, Oosterhuis fell further and further back until he came to the final two holes. Getting in without another bogey on his card had to be enough. When Jacklin dropped a 30-footer for an eagle at the last, he smiled wryly. 'I've got to be more competitive,' he said. 'So much has changed since I last played in Europe, as it has in the United States. Players practice a lot more and it is difficult to keep my game going. I'm here to find out some things about myself.' He has not won any money in four events, missing the cut in all of them.

A young boy stepped forward proffering a programme. 'Can you sign this please,' he said. Oosterhuis flipped through the pages trying to find one that carried his picture. He looked in vain.