For the well endowed off the tee who steadfastly believe that length matters, their self-assertion may have wilted somewhat with the $1M success story of Kevin Sutherland (pictured) at Carlsbad in California last weekend.
Kevin is a slightly built lad from Sacramento: frail of stature, he clearly has a big heart, guts, and a will-to-win with considerable determination. He was ranked in lowly 64th place in the world but clearly felt no personal inadequacies as he holed putt after putt to beat the 47th ranking Scott McCarron in the final of the Accenture World Matchplay Championship.
It would appear that golf now has as many world titles as boxing. What differs, however, is that in boxing no flyweight would ever be pitted against a heavyweight for fear of serious damage being done to the mind of the flyweight or the feelings of the heavyweight.
In this golfing world title contest weights of all kinds were mixed up and matched from the questionably top-64 players in the world and chaos reigned. Only two of the world's top-10 made it through the second round and all were sorely bruised and embarrassed in consequence.
Matchplay golf has a lot in common with prize fighting. Get in the first blow, make it tell then keep safe by maintaining a constant threat with the jab. The big lads tend to hit harder, try harder and beat themselves with their desperation to kill off the little guy. In matchplay golf you don't have to be the biggest or the best - you simply have to be the sharpest putter on the day.
This annual Accenture event is distinguished by its disappointments. Last year Steve Striker lost to Pierre Fulke in a final that was even less exciting than that of the previous year when Jeff Maggert beat Andrew Magee. Hardly a collection of household names - even golfing households' names. Were these insignificant names generating finals of breathtakingly exciting golf it would be one thing, but the fact is that the golf is of even less significance than the names. Holes won with a birdie were not commonplace and holes halved with birdies were as rare as bird's teeth. Indeed, these year's final saw more holes won with a par than with anything better.
Straightforward matchplay with the top 64 players in the world should make for an exciting spectacle yet what materialises, year after year is only slightly more exciting than baseball and marginally less exciting than watching paint dry. This event consistently produces journeyman finalists and it is not difficult to see why.
The La Jolla course, like last year's Melbourne venue, is not the most inspiring of places as it poses fewer problems than the size of the purse merits. Putting becomes a premium when fairways are wide and the rough poses more of a problem than a penalty.
The size of the purse itself seems insufficient incentive to the big boys. The top three in the world all went home after the first round. Woods and Mickelson played mediocre golf at best and Duval did not even reach that dizzy level. Sergio Garcia is said to be courting Martina Hingis, the tennis star, and he played as if his mind was on chicks other than birdies when he fell to Scott McCarron. Of the top men only Olazabal and Lehman made a show before falling to putts that on any other day might well have shaved the hole.
But such is matchplay golf and if the sponsors and producers are weeping over the TV ratings and the weekend galleries it serves only as proof that they know little of what they do. One wonders if they have actually heard of Wentworth and of what has been learned there over the past five decades. Clearly seeding is the solution to making something of this event. Simply give the top-16 in the world a by into the third round and make the next 64 battle it out to reach them. This would at least avoid the embarrassment of having more officials than spectators over the weekend.
But if anything positive is to be taken from this non-event it is that size bears no relationship to success in matchplay golf. Sutherland averaged only 260 yards off the tee and McCarron was only spitting distance longer. The firm straight stroke pays in the long run and the dividend is staying in the game. Getting it in the hole is what counts and the delicate touch reaps the rewards. Putting is increasingly at a premium no matter how far you hit the ball.
Luddites like myself believe that matchplay is the pure form of the game and anything else is perversion. We know that size really only matters when you have little else to offer.
|| 26 - FEBRUARY 2002