The Hacker: I like looking over the other side of the fence but not from a ditch
Sunday 17 July 2011
One of the highlights of my week at The Open was sharing a moment on the tee with the big-hitting American Bubba Watson. We were both sizing up our drivesat precisely the same time.
The only difference was that his was on the 14th at Royal St George's and mine was at the sixth on the neighbouring Prince's course. The two tees are separated only by 30 yards and a small fence and, last week, by the entire world of golf.
Bubba wouldn't have realised that he was swinging within sight and sound of a true hacker. But isn't that the true essence of golf, that the mightiest and the meekest can occasionally occupy the same small patch of the planet?
I'm tempted to make reference to shits that pass in the night but despite his disrespectful remarks about the French recently, I don't regard Bubba as such, and it wasn't night-time but early on Tuesday morning when he was on a practice round preparing for The Open.
One of my companions shouted "Hiya, Bubba", and he gave us a cheery wave. There aren't many, if any, sports in which participants a gulf apart can enjoy such intimacy. A parks footballer shares nothing with a star on the Wembley pitch; nor do those playing on stony council hard courts have much in common with the inhabitants of the Centre Court.
But the clumsiest of golfers can hack up the same hallowed turf as that trodden by the greats. Perhaps not at the same time but certainly in close proximity.
Today, as over the past three days, the Prince's course will be packed with players too happily engrossed in their games to spare more than a glance over the fence.
There aren't many places where this happens. When the Masters takes place at Augusta National, the focus of a large part of the sporting world is concentrated on the inevitable dramas of the short 12th.
Behind that green is a shrubbed bank leading up to a fence, the other side of which is one of the holes on the Augusta Country Club course.
I once spent a whole day reporting on what happened on the 12th and couldn't resist taking a peep occasionally at the golfers who were playing unconcernedly on the other side of the fence.
A man's game of golf is a man's game of golf. There's plenty of time to think of other games when we've finished ours.
I was playing Prince's with Ian Bulleid, sales and marketing director of Troon Golf, and Jed Moore, of Professional Sports Group. Troon are the largest golf club management group in the world and are helping the resurgence of the famous old course, which has seen major improvements led by the club's major shareholder, Mick McGuirk.
Prince's staged The Open in 1932 – won by Gene Sarazen — and was a qualifying course for this year's Open.
With three loops of nine holes, Prince's is flatter than the links of neighbouring Royal St George's but with similar undulating fairways and some sinisterly beautiful newly designed bunkers which I managed to avoid for most of the round despite the high wind. Indeed, I got a birdie on the par-four fourth and wasn't too much of a trial for Jed, who plays off one, and Ian, a 16 handicapper. I hesitate to say it as there's a medal coming up but I still seem to be improving.
There was definitely one improvement from when The Open was last here in 2003. I didn't fall in a ditch. I had over-enjoyed the Golf Writers dinner which takes place at the championships each year. When trying to locate our taxi I fell head first into a ditch in which the filthy water was at least four feet deep.
I was covered in so much slime, the taxi driver refused to let me in his car. This year, I was relieved of taxi location duties and I got back to the digs high but dry.
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