Earlier yesterday, there was fantastic drama in the High Veld. The South African Open served up an epic (excuse the pun Rory) finale, as Graham Storm continued his redemption story, beating Rory after three play off holes, four Hail Mary’s and some escapes that Houdini would marvel at. Ultimately, McIlroy shot himself in the foot on seventeen, finding sand and a horrible lie, where he had to double pump to get out and scramble for bogey. Not a long hole, especially in the high altitude, anything on the green would have been good enough for the W, but it lead to a battle on the last. If I’m being critical, of a guy that could have withdrew, and early reports detail him having a layoff because of this, I would take issue with his selections down the stretch.
Eighteen was a short hole. He did bomb one down the first time, but it got him into trouble on the other occasions. It did give rise to one of the best recoveries you will see in some time, but realistically had he gone short off the box, he still would have only had a mid iron left. Storm isn’t long and he went fairway wood all times.
Credit to him, a man that lost his tour card by as little as the price of a new wedge. He only got exemptions off the back of Patrick “Captain America” Reed having scheduling conflicts that for whatever twist of fate allowed Graham back on the tour. He now has exemption for two years so can enjoy the grind.
Dueling with the best in the world and winning will only do wonders for his confidence too. Even with the loss, I still feel it sets McIlroy up for a good year, health dependent. All things considered he drove pretty well, hitting 73% of fairways and being fifth in distance. The question of the putter last year must have annoyed him, but he had a good tournament this week, being top ten in putting statistics. When he did find trouble he did save himself the majority of occasions, so all depends on how the doctors view this setback. He has a great record in Dubai, so if you see him line up with Tiger, you will find it hard to bet against him.
The Masters are a bit away anyways, so it may be in his best interests to have an extended break before it, but on the basis of this weekends performance, he will be favourite you imagine. Though you would feel that a good Spring swing on the tour would set him up better for the career grand slam. Iron sharpens irons, and days like today serve as fantastic experiences to draw on when in the white heat of battle. Especially with new sticks in the bag. What a weekend by Justin Thomas too. He has ben on the radar for a season or two now, but with this latest victory, could it be a shift in his success levels? And I don’t mean bitpart tourneys at the start of the season designed to give guys a chance at retaining their cards. I mean majors. He obviously has the talent to win one. But the mindset is another thing completely.
You have to imagine that being in a competitor like Speiths company as much as he is would rub off on him? I doubt he has the same killer instinct, but surely he will not do a Sergio on it and go majorless? I hope so anyway. Rory was questioned about the notion of “growing the game.” I do love this abstract notion. That it’s down to the greats of the game to make more people watch events and take up the game. That magically, more people playing the game of golf somehow makes the game better and healthier. Or, in more digestible terms, for the hierarchy of golf at least, more consumers to tap into. Take the consumers in the favelas of Rio. The inclusion of Olympic golf was meant to leave a legacy, wasn’t it? Was that legacy to inspire them to take up the sport, or to admire from afar? Look but never touch, like so many other places globally.
We are lucky here and in golfs birthplace, in that it’s much more affordable than in many other spots. But we are the minority. There has been an influx of new establishments intent on highlighting exclusivity, away from the riff raff, so those that can afford it can get in touch with natural beauty, in the same way a scientist has a controlled environment for testing. So please Tours, don’t get sanctimonious.
Don’t work under the aspersions that you want to see more people involved in the game as a direct result of seeing the best that the world can offer. If so, get club manufacturers and courses to appeal to us “consumers”. Contrary to what some places tell you, golf is in good health.