Nothing turns the mind to the Ryder Cup quite like The Belfry in September. The next encounter in the biennial match is still a year away, of course, but the British Masters, which starts today, is the first event on home soil since qualifying for the 2008 European team began at the start of the month.
It is not incentive enough for everyone to grace the famous fairways, however. Fatigue and frustration mount daily at this time of year, along with the apologies for absence.
The Open champion Padraig Harrington, back from the US Tour Championship, is missing not just this week but next week's match in his home country, Ireland. Paul Casey, however, will be teeing it up in the Seve Trophy match between Great Britain and Ireland, and the continent of Europe, but withdrew from the British Masters on Tuesday to work on his game. Others, like Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter, are playing here but passed up the opportunity to play for Nick Faldo's team. They are more concerned with ensuring their spot on Faldo's European team at Valhalla in America in 12 months.
Poulter, who like Harrington was playing in the US Tour play-offs, rushed back after failing to qualify for the final event to play in Germany last week.
But his frustrations boiled over when he smashed a tee marker, for which he has been fined. It was his second offence of the season after a similar incident at The Open at Carnoustie. "I'm not going to accept hitting a bad shot," he maintained. "I'm not going to laugh and smile, it's not in my DNA. If anyone gets angry and does something silly then the Tour are going to do what they do.
"If I want to let a bit of my passion show – and I certainly don't want to lose any of my passion for the game – then unfortunately I have to pay for it in the pocket. But it's not as if I've taken a samurai sword and chopped a few heads off." But he admitted fatigue is a factor. "I've just played four weeks in a row and I'm exhausted," he said. "I was discussing whether to play at the start of the week but it's a big tournament and I like the course. There are Ryder Cup points at stake and I'm sure I can manage four days and put in a big performance." As someone who has missed two of the last three teams by the narrowest of margins, he is determined to repeat the experience of playing in 2004. At least he has a valid excuse for missing next week – he is getting married.
A bit of enthusiasm will not go amiss and the Walker Cup players Lloyd Saltman and Rory McIlroy, the young Irishman who won the Amateur medal at The Open, are making their professional debuts here.
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