Tenerife has much in common with a quarry and the Costa Adeje course has more in common with a quarry than most of the European Tour venues. That this place hosts the Spanish Open Championship is beyond my comprehension - but then, it has to be said that my comprehension of high finance is limited.
Few of the bigger names in European golf turned up in Tenerife. The young and determined were there together with the, hopefully, patriotically induced Olazabal and the defending champion, Sergio Garcia. Sergio brought his new swing, which he has cobbled together with his dad, and little else.
If the island of Tenerife is bizarre, Costa Adeje is far from commonplace. With six par threes, six par fives and six par fours it a least has symmetry. With bunkers of black volcanic dust posing as sand, varying wildly in compaction, and greens varying even more in speed and texture the course is as unpredictable as the National Lottery. At such a venue anything is likely to happen - and it did. There were certainly some surprises, not least of which was the presence of a few spectators.
With the number of par fives on offer eagles were always likely to be commonplace and they were. Mikko Ilonen produced four in one round to equal the record set by Gordon Brand Jnr at the Jersey Open in 1986. Mikko failed to maintain the magic although he did manage to produce further entertainment by making a ball disappear in a palm tree.
Olazabal and Garcia also provided some entertainment in their body language. Olazabal's return to form in the Masters made him the favourite for the event and the straggle of onlookers dutifully applauded his every shot, good, bad or indifferent. His body language, however, explicitly declared that he knew that he was playing kack. Garcia's language veered between jubilation and exhortation like a demented schizophrenic and one is left wondering why a player of his tender years who, having reached the top-10 in the world, should start tampering with a golfing mechanism that was far from broke.
Paul Casey continues looking every inch the master in waiting. After opening rounds of 64 and 65 he also looked the likely winner, but it was not to be. Putts that fell in the opening rounds started to lip out or simply miss by a whisker and one had the impression that he was simply trying too hard. One can understand this 25 year-old's impatience. Having a Tour win under his belt and having challenged the leader board so often, his frustration is understandable. Few hit the ball further or better but he has yet to come to terms with the chance aspect of the game. Pressure is self-imposed and the greater the ambition the greater the pressure.
Pablo Martin, the 17-year-old Spanish amateur did not experience the same frustrations and the lad was clearly enjoying himself. Hailed as the new Ballesteros, like Garcia before him, Martin came close to emulating Garcia by winning a professional tournament at 17 and yet an amateur. Unlike Garcia, however, he failed, but he has a swing of such orthodoxy and power that, coupled with his even temperament, could take him all the way.
Kenneth Ferrie won the Spanish Open after a play-off with Peter Lawrie and Peter Hedblom, becoming the sixth first time winner on the European Tour this year - and we are not yet at the end of April. What does this tell us? It could mean that we have a lot of very good rookies coming through, or it could mean that the big boys don't really want to play any more. Costa Adeje is not the most inspiring of places and the Spanish Open is sadly not what it once was and is certainly not in the forefront of prestige, but it is nevertheless sad that Harrington, Montgomerie, Clarke, Westwood and others should choose to ignore it.
Rookie tour winners might be healthy for golf and certainly for the distribution of wealth, but it does little for the popularity of the game. Punters like their stars to shine and nothing adds to the lustre like nostalgia. The Americans certainly know how to do it. Fred Couples' win in the Shell Houston Open probably did more for the US Tour and its TV viewing figures than anything that its publicity machine could have dreamed up. The fact that he was head-to -head with Mark Calcavecchia over the closing holes only added to the atmosphere of nostalgia. Fred had not won in five years. It is common knowledge that his private life has been tumultuous and that his potential has not been fulfilled. Fred of the sublime swing and immaculate timing in '92 when he won his Masters green jacket and took the Johnny Walker with such style, folded prematurely. He was always the fresh-faced, athletic, all-American boy-next-door who, together with Davis Love, was the great white hope of American golf. But the expectations of Fred were not fulfilled as slipshod indifference set in and dispassion prevailed.
Houston revealed a new Fred, even more fresh-faced at 42-years-old, a determined and passionate Fred, a born again golfer. Armed with a personal fitness trainer, a sports psycho and with Butch Harmon in his bag there may be no stopping Fred now.
Couples turned on the emotion when he pushed Davis Love to his win a few weeks ago and he turned up the volume further by playing well in the Masters. With Mark Calcavecchia at Houston he was at full blast. Mark played his part perfectly by dramatically stepping into a pond to play his third shot to the 17th green and tremblingly failing to make par. In so doing he left the door open for Fred to hit a perfect drive followed by a trademark long iron to make his birdie putt at the last hole. Fred was in tears afterwards - so was I and so too was much of America.
|| 1 - MAY 2003