There are so many lessons to be learned from this year's World Matchplay Championship at Wentworth that I hope that IMG and the European Tour are having a post-tournament de-briefing with minutes taken, lest we forget.
Probably the most important lesson should be learned on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. It should certainly be clear to everyone that Hype and ballyhoo may make for entertaining reading but rarely for entertaining golf. Instead of the grim purposefulness that has hung like a cloud over the game in recent years, we saw the game played in a warm sunny friendliness with everyone involved looking as if they were either enjoying themselves or suffering dreadfully while making all that money.
Gone was the grimness and in came the rueful smiles with which every player of the game can identify.
But the top boys in the game with the deepest pockets should sit up and pay heed to the statistics that this event generated. Without an American in the field play was of the highest standard imaginable. Sponsors should also note the crowd and TV viewing figures for there is an important lesson for every corporate accountant there.
With only VJ Singh figuring in the world's top five prepared to make the journey to Wentworth the event took some stick for its billing as the World Matchplay Championship. But it has been billed as such for the last 38 years with the leading strokeplayers in the world receiving an annual invitation.
Now, for centuries people have argued about the relatedness of stroke and match-play golf - surely now it can be seen that the best stroke-players do not necessarily make the best match-players and that the head-to-head game requires that extra bit of character. One simply has to ask the question; could any two from the top-10 in the Sony World Rankings have made a contest comparable to that put on by Woosnam and Harrington? I doubt it.
Tiger Woods and Mark O'Mera made quite a go of it two years ago but their match was a hapless and dull thing compared to what Woosnam and Harrington got up to. Indeed, one has to go all the way back to Palmer and Player to come up with anything quite so entertaining. Certainly it is not since Palmer that any American who came over looked as if he was doing us anything other than a favour by turning up. Sandy Lyle and Tommy Nakajima put on a wonderful display of matchplay golf in 1986 when they played like men happily engaged in mortal combat. Both were 15 under par after 36 holes and Lyle won at the 37th. We thought then that we would never see the likes again - yet we have done and yet again without an American involved.
For Woosnam and Harrington records fell like rain. Woosie had an outward half of 28 strokes. He had a run of seven successive birdies. Harrington played 18holes in 61 shots, equalling the Wentworth record when it was playing its wet full length. He played the tough back nine in 30 and his 12 birdie round equalled the best ever on the European Tour. Jointly they recorded 21 birdies and returned an eclectic card of 56!
But stupendous golf and records aside, they provided the spectator with something more important but much less tangible - sheer entertainment. The tension when Woosnam went three down was accrued from empathy for he was playing superb golf. Then, when he started his birdie run, elation ran through the course like a forest fire before being doused by the realisation that Harrington was throwing the match away. The crowd ached for him to stir and produce yet more magic. But as Woosnam took the fight again and again to Harrington like a snapping pug dog the crowd's appreciation of raw character was clear. Woosnam would have been applauded for breaking wind.
The last lesson that should be learned from all of this is one that should be noted by players, Tour officials, sponsors and agents alike. It is simply this: pro golfers are basically entertainers. Sportsmen they may be but it is in the realms of theatre that their value lies. This year's Matchplay had it all in a cast that incorporated nostalgia and nausea, braggadocio and brilliance.
Oh! I almost forgot. There are two other lessons that should be learned by everyone. Length does not matter and neither does age.
|| 16 - OCTOBER 2001