Ivan Morris’s old pals Mutt and Jeff convene to discuss last weekend’s Open Championship
Mutt: That was the best golf match I ever saw! Fickleson and Stenson were so good during their last two rounds at Troon that they ran away from the field and left the best golfers in the world trailing miles behind them.
Jeff: Do you know what I could not help thinking? Under championship conditions, top pros are 8-10-shots per round (at least) better than an ordinary scratch handicapper and I am not thinking of Stenson and Mickelson. I'm referring to the Troon also-rans.
Mutt: That's quite a difference. It's up to 40-shots over 72-holes! But, I agree with you. Club golfers have no idea how difficult a golf course like Royal Troon is when set up for The Open Championship.
Apart from the scratch amateur being a long way off from being as good as a pro technically, his course-management skills and ability to focus on making the lowest score possible, no matter what the circumstances and how badly he is playing, is not in the same ball park.
If a scratch man were told to play from where Mickelson hit his drives on Saturday, he wouldn't break 90.
Jeff: It must be due to the speed of the greens, the narrowness of the fairways and the severity of the pin locations?
Mutt: They are only part of it. It's the consistency of their scoring that matters most. One of the attractions of golf is that everyone can hit a perfect shot now and again. It's the mistakes that add up. A golfer is only as good as his bad shots. It's the ability to make your par in any circumstance and wherever the pins are located.
Jeff: The holes at Troon were in places that the members never see - on slopes, four steps away from the corner of a green or from a deep bunker. The fairway bunkers were the worst hazards of all and there were a lot of them.
Jeff: Top tour pros don't back up a lot. By that I mean they don't take too many bogies no matter how poorly they are playing and Mickelson is the maestro in that department. When pros play well they make lots of birdies. When they are 'off' they make lots of pars.
Mutt: You'd need to be a +5-handicapper to even think of turning pro, these days. That's five shots per round better than scratch and 20-shots gained over 72-holes and you still might not be good enough!
Jeff: The better players make so few bogeys relative to the scratch-handicap amateur. These days, the standard is so high that being a top player at your home club means nothing; very few scratch men have golf games that will travel very far and it really makes you stop and think when you realize that only 1/2 of 1 percent of all golfers worldwide are below 10-handicap. We are nearly all rubbish!
Mutt: The average standard scratch score of the courses used by the European Tour would be 78. Golf on Tour is hard but the pros make it look easy. They are golfing machines! Their handicaps at their home courses might be +13 or +14.
Jeff: What you are saying is: it’s all about not making mistakes and day-in, day-out reliability. Steady play in spite of the horrible lifestyle; being constantly on the road and rarely sleeping in your own bed.
Mutt: The biggest difference of all is the intangible mental side of the game. It takes a special breed to be able to hack it on the Pro Tour. Going around your home course in 5-under is in no way comparable with doing a similar score in a professional tournament.
Tour players play on a different course every week. They can’t just decide not to play because of a sore back or an argument with a wife or because they just don’t feel like playing that day because it is too hot or too windy. When you do something for a living it's a different mindset.
Jeff: So that's why you stayed amateur?
Mutt: You betcha! And, the gap wasn't as big between the top amateur and top pro then but it was still a discernible gap.
Jeff: I went out to Dromoland to watch the Munster Boys Championship and was most impressed by a lot of the golf I saw. Those young lads can really play! I wonder how many of them will be good enough for the pro game because that's what most of them dream about. Every one of them hits the ball a country mile. The finish was absolutely brilliant. John Murphy (Kinsale) shot 70, 67 for openers but had a few problems in the final round, which allowed Hugh O'Hare (Fortwilliam) to catch him and pass him with only two holes to go. Undaunted, with the title slipping away, Murphy snapped back with two brilliantly played birdies to finish with a 74 and a 3-round total of 5-under par - good playing in far from easy conditions on a course that is fraught with 'double bogey' danger.
Morgan Hanley (Limerick) was best of the local brigade with steady rounds of 76, 74, 77, which placed him ahead of his Fred Daly team mates and Limerick's, two, latest, newly named inter-provincials (on duty for Munster at Tullamore this week), Ciaran Vaughan (winner of the Connacht Boys) and Sean Enright.
Mutt: I'm delighted to hear that!