NOW THAT THE excitement has died down on that remarkable climax at Augusta let’s look back at what should be applauded at The Masters 2016 and what was worthy of a well aimed brickbat.
Of matters to be cheered one thing most, this side of the Atlantic, would agree on is Danny Willett’s inspiring victory. Spieth did not lose it, Willett shot the best round on the last day under enormous pressure and very much won it. What makes matters even better is that he is a normal, everyday, open bloke from Sheffield not, or at least not yet, part of that coterie of prima donnas for whom every interview must be approved beforehand. Willett is also the best chance to get more young Englishmen playing golf because they can relate to him. Unlike Faldo, the last and only previous English winner, for a start he has a sense of humour.
Next up was Jordan Spieth taking seven on the last day at the par three 12th. Golden Bell, as it is known, is 156 yards long and required a nine iron for Spieth. He bottled it. As he hit not one but two balls into Rae’s Creek he saw his dream of successive green jackets implode. If ever there was something to give the average golf club hacker the most enormous boost it was this. If Jordan Spieth can do it, why should anyone get wild when they suffer similarly? Disaster in golf really does happen to everyone who plays it.
Continuing the theme of pain is Ernie Els, endeavouring unsuccessfully on the very first green on the very first day to putt what must have looked to him like a pea into a thimble. Poor Ernie has got form since having to jettison his belly putter, but we all shared his pain because we know what it is like to take lots of putts on a green although, most likely, very rarely six.
The wait for an Englishman to succeed Faldo’s last triumph in 1996 is over. And not only was there an English winner in Willett there were four more in the top 10. Soon we may even be seeing another English winner of the Open. Whilst Westwood, Casey and Donald have never seized their opportunities, with most English golf fans pinning their hopes on Justin Rose, add the names of Willett and the youthful Matt Fitzpatrick to Rose and there is genuine cause for optimism. And all of these successes at Augusta have done much to boost the morale of team Europe for the forthcoming Ryder Cup.
Things that we could do without start even before the pros tee up in the tournament. It occurs on a Wednesday in the deeply cloying par three tournament where oh so cute little tots and equally oh so cute players’ wives and girl friends all totter out in white and green boiler suits pretending to be caddies. Factor in the occasional boy band star and it is less of a golf competition and more like some ghastly ego-fest lifted straight from the pages of Hello! magazine. And it is televised. Why?
It was a close call but Jason Day, the world’s number one, played even more slowly than Jordan Spieth whose endless discussions with his caddy whilst standing over two feet putts inspired Danny Willett’s brother, Peter, to tweet the most appropriately worded post (see the Last Word below) on the time it was taking to hit a golf shot. Spieth got particularly huffy when his group were told to get a move on during his round on Thursday but he was only told on the 17th. This is no advert for golf and the rule makers and tournament organisers should not stand for it, but they do.
TV coverage of the Masters is a most curious affair as the good ol’ boys that run the excessively secretive and preposterously wealthy Augusta National club refuse to allow anyone to see televised golf before 2.00 pm, which means 8.00pm in the UK thus giving us an entire hour of Colin Montgomerie and Butch Harmon in conversation. Whereas Harmon, whose conversation is littered with phrases like ‘Attaboy Rosie’ and personalised diminutives of other players’ surnames, does occasionally offer a shaft of insight Montgomerie always looks as though he is suffering from chronic wind. He gurns, furrowing his brow in what looks like anguish before making statements that are either blindingly obvious or just plain wrong. The winner of The Masters 2016 could ‘Only come from one of the world’s top three’ he gravely opined. Thanks Monty.
Continuing the TV theme, where has Sky been keeping Nick Dougherty? He may only be a journeyman pro currently ranked outside the world’s top 1,000 but his summing up of the tournament on a special Masters round up being interviewed by the less than impressive Robert Lee was a master class. Relaxed, occasionally amusing, always informative and able to break Sky rules that apparently deem every male pundit must wear a chunky tie at all times, he put the rest of the assembled ex-professionals to shame. Dougherty could do with the money that Montgomerie does not need. Please can we have an immediate swap?
For those not watching on Sky the only thing you need to know about the BBC coverage is that Peter Alliss, surely now only hours from the shady nooks retirement home for the terminally bewildered, introduced Dustin Johnson stepping up to putt as Oscar-winner Dustin Hoffman. Splendid.
However bad the assembled team was for UK coverage nothing can compare with the Augusta National committee’s commentator of choice, Jim Nantz of CBS. For those who have missed Nantz, his questioning makes sitting on the morning TV sofa with Richard and Judy seem like a particularly aggressive interrogation by the KGB. His oleaginous post round interview with champion Willett and a shell-shocked Spieth was like watching an incoming oil slick. Perhaps this should really go down as very good news, simply on the basis that we do not have to endure Nantz on UK television.