James Lawton: Watson again lights up Open in handing a timely reminder to golf's young pretenders
Saturday 16 July 2011
In the sunlight shining on a brilliant new generation of golfers there was another kind of glow here yesterday.
This was the kind you see in the embers of an old, glorious fire.
It came from Tom Watson, the last great man of his times, who helped shepherd the latest of today's wunderkind, England's Tom Lewis, through his major baptism – just as he did the precocious Italian neophyte, Matteo Manassero.
The gifted boy was 16 when he came under Watson's influence at Turnberry two years ago and it was mostly the sheer presence of the then 59-year-old, eight-time major winner which helped him secure a stunning 13th place.
Manassero, who was yesterday fighting to beat the cut in the company of another veteran who has paid visits to the mountain top, Argentina's Angel Cabrera, said, "Tom Watson didn't have to say anything to me, he didn't have to give me any advice, it was enough to be around him, watching him, seeing how he approached every shot."
In Turnberry the man from Kansas City provided rather more than a tutorial for the young gentleman of Verona when he came so close to writing one of the most astonishing stories in the history of sport. His drive to win a ninth major – and sixth Open – which only failed on the last green, when he was dragged into a play-off, was so remarkable nothing he did yesterday was likely to match it.
So he contented himself, with all of his routine grace, with a hole in one at the sixth. He lifted his arms to the sky as the cheers rolled along the shoreline of the English Channel. He was plainly delighted to have brushed once more against the consciousness of a great event. At one point he was four shots off the lead but that was a mere detail.
He was never going to win this major tournament again, we found that out in Turnberry, but he could say to the new and brilliant contenders: "I remember how it was to have the world at my feet."
It is a world that has rarely been so filled with young and well supported ambition.
While the empire of Tiger Woods teeters somewhere between here and oblivion, and Rory McIlroy undertakes an extraordinary audition for the role, the likes of Manassero, Lewis, American Rickie Fowler and Japan's Ryo Ishikawa and the battling Aussie Jason Day, second in the last two majors, build the evidence that we may indeed be at the dawn of a new and dazzling epoch of the game.
Gary Player, aged 75 and the winner of nine majors, certainly believes that golf, as tennis did at Wimbledon, is proving that it is in the throes of a new golden age.
"You must remember," he said before attending to his daily regime of weight pushing andhundreds of sit-ups, "that there have been so many golden ages of golf and that, whatever they do with the technology of the game, which is taking it away from so many ordinary people, they will never find anyone as good as Ben Hogan.
"Yes, there are truly remarkable players now – Tiger was amazing for so long, and now Rory McIlroy is promising remarkable deeds and, wherever you look, there are brilliant young players.
"What I would just like today's generation to remember, though, is that the world is so different – the food, the science, the training, the travelling – they do have it better of course but at the same it is wonderful they are taking their chances so well.
"I think back to when I was a young player and I would travel from London to Scotland on a train. It took me all day. Now Ernie Els can play in an Open tournament and be back in his own bed in Florida on Sunday night. We didn't have state-of-the-art gyms – we went to the YMCA if we went anywhere, we didn't have protein charts, we didn't have private jets – but we did learn to play good golf.
"Now the combination of dedication by so many young players and the technology of the game has produced amazing results. Still, I want to see 50 yards taken off the golf ball – I want to the game to be playable again by ordinary people.
"But that doesn't mean I don't celebrate wonderful performances like the one young Rory put in at Bethesda recently. That was his reward for working so hard on his talent. That has always been the key, you know.
"When I was a young player and such a great admirer of Hogan I went up to him one day in the locker room and asked him what his secret was. He answered with a question. He asked me how much work I did. I told him about all the hours and hours of practice on every aspect of the game, all the fitness work I had been undertaking. I didn't think it was possible for a young player to be so committed, to do so much work.
"Hogan let me finish, then said, 'Double it'."
Player doesn't believe there can ever be a golf age capable of producing a player better than Hogan. "Nothing was beyond him," Player recalled in the English sunshine. "So however much I admire the players of today, and the effort which took Tiger Woods to his place in the game, I have this little place in my heart which says, 'Hogan will always be the man'."
Player said this against the background noise of a great roar from the first tee, where McIlroy had drawn another huge gallery. He was returning, briefly, to another golden age of golf. It was one which we might have considered entirely dead and gone. Right up to the moment Tom Watson spread his arms up to a big blue sky.
Dalglish policy of buying British sells Anfield's history short
Kenny Dalglish did a wonderful job renovating the spirit and the values of Liverpool Football Club but he can hardly be surprised if the arrival of Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson and Charlie Adam has yet to stimulate wild celebrations along Scottie Road.
At a combined cost of more than £40m this is a transfer package which leans heavily on the principle of buying British and securing increased commitment and cultural cohesion.
Unfortunately, it doesn't begin to meet the basic requirement of a club hoping seriously to reclaim its place at the top of the game. It doesn't have enough superior craft or personality or, let's face it, the kind of dynamic talent that first carried Liverpool towards the stars.
Maybe Dalglish believes that British-bred sinew and graft will prove more reliable than fancy foreign skills but then this is in defiance of the fact that the best thing that happened to Liverpool last season was, by some distance, the Uruguayan Luis Suarez.
When Bill Shankly made a star signing he would stage conducted tours around players such as Ronnie Yeats – "a colossus" – and Ian St John, who would have been a middleweight contender if he hadn't elected to play football. Sadly, all aboard the Stewart Downing Special doesn't have quite the same ring.
Tendulkar gold limited by need for one-day cash
Who wouldn't trade a week of junk cricket for a fifth Test in the coming series with India?
No prizes for saying that it is the money men, of course. One day, though, they may grasp that when all the dross is swept away there will be one diamond left in the cricket treasury. It is the opportunity to see great batsmen and bowlers stretching at the very seams of their talent. In the next few weeks no-one will represent this sensation better than the "Little Master", Sachin Tendulkar. Any abbreviation of exposure to his talent, one that seems certain to be his last Test series in England, is an outrage.
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