Saturday 18 July 2009
Brian Viner: Who'll measure up to the true heavyweights?
The Last Word
"He looks great," said Sam Torrance during the television coverage of the Open Championship on Thursday afternoon, as the camera zoomed in on John Daly in a shirt and trousers of luminous green, the kind of outfit that Huggy Bear in Starsky and Hutch would have rejected as a little too flamboyant.
But Torrance was referring not to the Daly gear but the Daly girth, still formidable but much reduced by the insertion of a gastric band, and I was reminded of one of Torrance's predecessors in the BBC commentary box, the late Henry Longhurst, who also used to battle with his weight. In Longhurst's marvellous autobiography, My Life and Soft Times, he described his visits to a health farm called Enton, where he was put on starvation rations to lose some of his standard 15 stone, which he had calculated to his horror was equivalent to carrying "60 wooden clubs, 150 irons and almost exactly a gross of balls". This he shared with another inmate, Lord Banbury. "And the next morning the noble naked lord stepped off the scales saying with much pride 'I've lost all the irons and two of the woods'."
Well, Daly too has lost all the irons and a couple of the woods, but even if he were to dress more soberly he would still stand out in what is increasingly a game for men with six-packs rather than Party Sevens. There are some XXL exceptions, of course, such as Angel Cabrera and Colin Montgomerie, but most of the younger guys contesting the 138th Open are impressively svelte, doubtless inspired by the fitness regime of Tiger Woods.
But consider the old guys, too. It is surely no coincidence that the big story of last year's Open, the challenge of Greg Norman, and one of the big stories this year, Tom Watson's opening-round 65, concern two men who are more or less the same shape in their fifties that they were in their thirties. They are an example to us all, although in his press conference on Thursday 59-year-old Watson pointed out that he has no chance of matching the achievement of a tubby little Virginian. The late Sam Snead, he pointed out, shot his age or better every year from the time he was 59 until shortly before he died, just before his 90th birthday.
A delivery that halted Aussies' progress
Pardon the indulgence of a very personal story, but the Saturday of a Lord's Test between England and Australia has particular resonance for me because it was on such a day in June 1993 that my first child was born. On 19 June little Eleanor May was delivered shortly after midnight at St Mary's Hospital, Paddington, and Richie Benaud really could have been doing the commentary, because it was a very quick delivery indeed, with a little bit of wind assistance.
Anyway, Eleanor and my wife Jane were discharged just nine hours later, there being a chronic shortage of beds in the maternity wards. We took a black cab home, which in those days was a small flat in Grove End Road, barely 100 yards from the Grace Gates, and I asked the driver to wait while I took a series of photographs of wife and new-born daughter emerging from the back of the cab. Which was fine with him, but not with the driver of a coach being held up by the photo-shoot, who started tooting furiously. It was the Australian team coach, no less.
So Eleanor has an unusual claim to fame: at nine hours old she inconvenienced Allan Border, Steve Waugh and co, which was more than could be said, later that day, for Messrs Gooch, Atherton, and team-mates. By the close of play England were 193 for 9, replying somewhat feebly to Australia's mammoth first innings total of 632 for 4. They duly followed on, and lost the match by an innings and 62 runs. I'm not ashamed to admit that, consumed with the joys of fatherhood, I didn't care.
Webber could be looking for reverse gear over F1 attack
Formula One could learn a lot from the Tour de France, the rules in cycling insisting on "primacy of man over machine". In Formula One the primacy of machine over man is absolute; after all, less than a year ago we were being told that Lewis Hamilton was the most gifted driver since Fangio, and now, in an inferior car, he's an also-ran. But it's nice to see the same equation working in reverse. Just before the Australian Grand Prix kicked off the 2008 season, I interviewed the Red Bull driver Mark Webber, and asked him how he reconciled the lust for winning in his native Australia with the reality that he would probably never win. "After all," I wrote, "he comes from the same town – Queanbeyan, New South Wales – as a man whose will to win radiated from every pore, the former Wallaby winger David Campese. It's an impudent question, but can Queanbeyan be similarly proud of a man for whom fifth place on Sunday would constitute unexpected success? 'Probably not, mate,' says the ever-candid Webber. 'It's a shit sport in that respect.'
Having won the first Grand Prix of his 130-race career in Germany last weekend, Webber has no doubt reconsidered that view.
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