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Fickle Fortunes at Portmarnock
Mike Campbell won the Irish Open at Portmarnock after a playoff with Peter Hedblom and Thomas Bjorn. It says much for Bjorn that only days after leaving his claim on the claret jug in a greenside bunker at Royal St George's he was able to play at all, far less contest the title. Mark Roe, perhaps understandably, did not fare so well carrying the burden of public sympathy.

It comes as no surprise to find Mike Campbell returning to his winning ways. I have been preaching his golfing virtues since 1995 when he led the Open at St Andrews after three magnificent rounds of golf. It was rookie year in Europe for the young New Zealander and nobody was surprised when he dropped shots over the closing holes in the last round.

What was surprising was the extent of the psychological backlash of his St Andrews experience which he compounded with back trouble to hasten his fall from golfing grace. When he did reappear, he did so with a vengeance and brought his wonderful hands and golfing action to the forefront of the world golfing stage.

In the first counting event of the 2000 season, the Johnnie Walker Classic in Taiwan, he held off Els and Woods to win in style. Weeks later he won the New Zealand Open before he brought his winning ways to Europe, triumphing immediately in Germany and rarely being off the leader board thereafter. He suffixed an altogether different order of merit to his name in 2001 when the Queen saw fit to recognise his services to golf by awarding him his native New Zealand's Order of Merit.

The appreciation that he had long enjoyed in the antipodes was echoed in Europe where he became a firm fixture on Tour and much admired for his bold play.

After 13 European Tour wins, Campbell cast his lot in on the US Tour this year and for a player who started the year as the world's 18th best player, his experience proved a nightmare. Prior to the Irish event the only three cheques he had received this season were for simply showing up. He got £30K for being dumped in the first round of the Accenture Match Play, £5K for the Masters and £1K for the US Open after failing to make the cut in both events - as he did in nine others.

Campbell has, however, emerged from his catastrophe to find that his cloud has a silver lining. There are many, and Mike Campbell among them, who desperately hope that Mark Roe's cloud will lift to reveal not only a silver lining but also a bright-blue yonder.

Arguably Campbell and Roe have contributed more to the European game in the last few years than most. Their relaxed and light-hearted attitude to the game is in sharp contrast to the dour, sullen, grim and desperate attitude of the majority - in particular Colin Montgomerie - whose grim-faced determination has made winning millions appear a terrible chore. Mike Campbell was always a joy to watch with his effortless swing and joyous attitude. Mark Roe was an ongoing entertainment with his joi-de-vivre.

Without such men in the mould of Ballesteros, as well the likes of Garcia and Harrington, who actually look as if they are enjoying themselves, the pro game would be bereft of character - and sponsorship.

Roe did not make his mark on the Irish Open as Bjorn did. Perhaps Bjorn was inspired with something to prove and that force overcame any reaction of despair. Roe opened his account at Portmarnock with a creditable 69 but followed it with a 74. Doubtless the attention of the press and the sympathy of wellwishers contributed to his preoccupied and indifferent 74 on Friday, but emotional exhaustion must also have played its part. It is to his eternal credit that he made the cut.

Mark Roe may be the most enjoyed and best liked player on Tour but he is likely to find his place in history through the controversy surrounding his disqualification in this year's Open. He deserves better than this for he is an intelligent, articulate man who is passionately interested in the history of the game and respectful of its integrity and traditions.

There is no question concerning Mark Roe's disqualification. He was guilty of gross negligence when he signed and returned the wrong card. He was also, as anyone who knows him would have expected, man enough to acknowledge that fact and unquestioningly accept the consequences. But he was more than that for he was magnificent when he put down the reporters as they tried to extract reproach of the R&A from him.

He was equally so when he stated that he would not have played had his disqualification been overturned. Such is the man and such is his respect for the rules of the game.

Clearly in club golf, rigorous card-keeping is mandatory. In the Open Championship, however, there is surely something anachronistic about returning a card when every player is accompanied by a scorer, every game has a referee and every shot is registered electronically.

It rather raises the bile that at a time when golf is under a great deal of fire from every direction that this misfortune should have occurred. All of the old clichis about the game become reinvigorated. Whether we like it or not, much of the world perceives golf as a game played by social aspirants and self-important, pompous people who are as unfamiliar with natural justice as they are about obtaining a tee-time on a public golf course. For the majority, there is much schadenfraude to be obtained from the game shooting itself in its lardy backside.

No one should be surprised with Mark Roe having to accept public sympathy whether he wants it or not. Should he fail to retain his Tour card this year - and remember that he had to hole a six foot putt on the last green to take third place in the Italian Open last year and retain his card - the tabloid press sports pages will have a field day.




©    29 - JULY 2003



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