We had been going along very nicely indeed, thank you. Through no fault of his own Brian Huggett, the defending champion of the Gary Player Seniors Classic at the St Pierre Golf and Country Club, found himself playing with two hacks, Michael McDonnell of the Daily Mail and Peter Masters of Golf World, and a hacker, myself. The unusual format of this first tournament on the schedule of the European Seniors Tour is that the first two rounds are pro-am and in the final round tomorrow the 40 professionals discard their amateur partners but retain their individual scores. The pro-am scores are totted up this evening and thus there are two competitions in one. Enough of the technical stuff.
You may or may not be interested in what happened next but it is all you are going to get. We hit the leaderboard in some style at the eighth. It is a tricky par four with an avenue of trees down the left. Huggett, who played in six Ryder Cups before captaining the team in 1977, got a four. I got a four, McDonnell got a four and Masters a three. We are talking gross figures here. Therefore, taking handicaps into account, we were quids in. Huggett admitted he had never seen putting like it. We were pumped up, we were on a roll.
At that point there were two spectators, man and wife by the look of them, following our four-ball. We had gone to seven under par and we were leading. The news spread like wildfire. By the time we had made a hash of the 11th, 24 people were watching our every move. OK, the majority were watching Huggett, the local Welsh hero, but nevertheless it became a totally different ballgame. The first part of my game to go was my driving. What the spectators - they continued to grow in number - were blissfully unaware of is that they were now in mortal danger.
We, as a team that is, pulled ourselves together. Huggett, who is not dissimilar in build to those other Welsh giants of the fairways, Dai Rees and Ian Woosnam, has a theory about being, not small, but short. It makes you fight harder for everything, he said. Bulldog Huggett they used to call him. Some still do.
At the 14th, a par five of 479 yards, he subtly smashed a three-wood approach shot to the heart of the green and rolled in a 20-footer for an eagle three. The 56-year-old competitive juices were bubbling. At the 16th, a par four of 414 yards (stroke index two, which basically means it is the second most difficult hole on the course) Huggett, for his second shot, cut a five-wood into the wind, teasing the ball to within four feet of the flag. 'I was very pleased with that one,' he said. He had a birdie and Masters a net birdie.
We were back on the leaderboard and, via the bush telegraph, the crowd had grown even thicker. Disaster awaited. The Bulldog three-putted the 17th for a bogey five and cursed the green for being too slow. When he stood on the 18th tee, confronting one of the toughest par threes in golf, he was in two minds. It is 230 yards to an uphill green with a carry over a lake. He eventually decided on a three-wood, misread the wind and went out of bounds in front of the clubhouse to the right of the green. Teeing it up a second time he found the green, this time with a five-wood but the result was a double-bogey five.
He finished with 72, one over par, but he was not far off the lead. I, too, went out of bounds at the last, but with my second shot. In the pro-am we had dropped back to five under on 137 and that was seven shots adrift of Neil Coles's team. As Coles shot 76, all I can say is that he must have had some mighty fine amateurs for company. But they could not match the size of our enthusiastic gallery.
GARY PLAYER SENIORS CLASSIC (St Pierre Golf and Country Club) Leading first-round scores (GB and Irl unless stated): 70 D Butler, A Skerritt. 71 R Botts (US), J Carr (US). 72 B Huggett, B Carter, C Wyant, A Grubb, B Waites, T Horton. 73 P Gill, G Will, P Butler.
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