In his weekly Limerick Leader column, Ivan Morris describes his recent trip to Abu Dhabi where he watched some of the world’s best golfers up close.
You cannot believe everything I write! I exaggerated that I went sightseeing in Abu Dhabi two weeks ago during the HSBC golf tournament and ignored the golf. How could one resist watching top echelon players in action and being on the lookout to learn something new?
First things first, the weather in The Emirates in January was perfect – like one of our best summer days - between 22 and 28C - not a hint of rain. AD is in the Arabian Desert, after all. I’d recommend anyone who can afford it, to go there in January for a week’s golf. The golf tourism facilities and cultural experiences are highly memorable - a touch expensive, maybe, but not excessively so. However, do not go there in the summer when the temps climb into the 50s.
I attempted to catch up with Paul McGinley, the Ryder Cup Captain, for a chat but wasn’t fast enough on my feet. He was too quick and in huge demand for media interviews. Paul appears very self-assured in his captaincy role and he will need to be at Gleneagles! I was also impressed with the way he was striking the ball, especially off the tee. He is not a spent docket as a competitor yet.
On Thursday and Friday, Paul played with the young pretender, Tommy Fleetwood. I’d say he liked what he saw. Thin, lanky ectomorphs are not always the ideal body shape for golf. They are injury prone but Fleetwood is coping. He twists and turns like an eel, creates incredible ‘lag’ in his swing and hits the ball a mile.
Padraig Harrington was ‘flying’ in round one until he missed a short putt on the 10th, after which his whole persona dissolved into horrible negativity. It’s a shame because all pros miss short putts. Taking putting for granted for all of his career means that Padraig is unable to cope with the indignity of missing from twofeet, for now. He is a far better, all-round golfer than when he won his three majors. If he could dismiss the odd faux pas from close range and stop brooding about it, he will win again. As for Darren Clarke - I saw him briefly too until he vanished behind a flagstick! His fix is easier to prescribe than Padraig’s - a hearty meal and a few pints.
I was extremely impressed by Rory Mac and Thomas Bjorn. Rory is clearly back to his best. The incorrect drop ruling that went against him in the third round cost him a win. The intervention of Ricardo Gonzales’s caddie, Dave Renwick, and the inaction, some say incompetence of his own bagman, was illuminating. Renwick will tell you he was protecting the field. Besides, if he could see the transgression how come Rory’s caddie didn’t? It’s part of a caddie’s brief to make sure his boss avoids unwanted 2-shot ‘inconveniences.’
It may have been an innocuous, rules technicality but it is one that frequently arises and Rory should have been more careful. Too often, pros make trouble for themselves by claiming ‘free drops’ when they’d be better off playing the ball as it lies. Dropping balls in ‘wrong’ places is one of the most common ‘banana skins’ in golf.
As chairman of the player’s committee, Thomas Bjorn strides around the course like a Field General in command of his troops. I saw him hitting several wild shots but he recovered well each time. Week after week, Bjorn finishes high up. His game and personality are ideal for match play. He is a certainty for Gleneagles and I’d also nominate him to be the next Ryder Cup captain.
What else did I learn?
It all revolves around Harrington’s alarming putting dilemma. Perhaps, he does not realize that it is more usual to win with substandard putting and a razor sharp long game than the other way around and that he is not as far away from a victory as he may think? Pro golf is all about hitting shots into the greens close enough to make single putts. The best way to achieve that is making sure you are on the fairway with a short iron in hand. That’s the reason long, straight hitters always have an advantage. Over the long run, length adds up bringing with it an advantage that isn’t reflected in mundane statistics like hitting greens in regulation. This is particularly true at pro level but for the humble amateur golfer it’s the opposite. Ball striking only becomes a differentiator when the remainder of the game is comparable. To be honest, the difference in short game skills between amateurs and pros is staggering. Ball striking is what sets pros apart from other pros. Pitching, chipping and putting is what separates amateurs from amateurs.