Golf is one of those sports that lends itself to fine writing but where it absolutely excels is in the quality of photography it provides for armchair fans.
There are a number of reasons for this - not least of which is that photographers are allowed onto the field of play, inside the gallery ropes. In addition, the game itself is a beguiling contrast of gentle, walking pace ambulation, alongside much considered thought - allied to explosive power and ferocity. Finally, of course, are the acres over which the game is played, which are among the most beautiful places anywhere in the world.
Golf is particularly blessed with the quality of photographers working in the game but the best of them all, in the view of ScottishGolf, is Phil Sheldon - and his book Golfing Days illustrates why he has risen to the top in a competitive field. Probably without being aware of it you will have seen and appreciated Phil's work for much, if not all the 30 years he has been working.
Do you remember Fulford in 1981 when an improbably young-looking Bernhard Langer climbed a tree to play a shot during the Benson & Hedges International - chances are that it was Phil's picture you saw in the following day's paper. Or how about that classic image of Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal, marching straight into the setting sun at Muirfield Village in 1987, when they were so instrumental in helping Europe win the Ryder Cup for the first time in America?
Think of the great golfing moments that have stirred your blood over the last three decades and the chances are that not only was Phil there but that he got the shot. But more than this, Sheldon is also a lucky photographer. The technical stuff, about focal length, shutter speed and all the other minutia that photographers inexplicably find so interesting, is the easy bit, and can be taught and learned by anyone with a functioning brain. But to earn a living as a sports photographer takes two other elements.
First is luck - or perhaps more accurately, instinct; knowing where to be and when to be there. A golf course can cover up to 160 acres and have 156 competitors on it any one time. And the first rule of 'live' golf watching that ScottishGolf has learnt, is that the biggest cheers always come from where you are not. So for a photographer to get himself to the place where the real action is going to happen (not where it has just taken place) requires a lot of experience and judgement.
Second is the ability to 'see' or imagine or compose a shot that no-one else would consider. To show how much the Ryder Cup means, for example, by capturing the grimace on the faces of the players' wives, or to notice that the US Solheim captain is so committed that even her ankles bear the Cup logo. Or even to encapsulate the importance of the Masters by taking a shot of a patron whose hat is festooned with those rarest of treasures, an admission ticket from previous years.
There are, inevitably, omissions - Hale Irwin's ecstatic gallop around the 18th at Medinah in the 1990 US Open, for example, when he holed an improbable putt to get into a playoff - but then again, very few photographers got that one.
NB: After this review appeared, Phil Sheldon got in touch to say he did get the shot of Hale Irwin at Medinah but it was not included purely for space. We're happy to make the correction.
At this time of year, with little golf on TV and few opportunities to play, indulge yourself and wallow in this superb collection by a great photographer - I guarantee you will come back to it time and time again.
Golfing Days by Phil Sheldon
Mitchell Beazley, ISBN: 1-84533-002-1
|| 5 - JANUARY 2005