It never ceases to amaze that a regular progress of competent, able and gifted but deluded amateur players fancy their chances as on the pro circuit. racing drivers, rugby players, tennis stars and footballers have been drawn, by an inflated perception of themselves, into tossing their lot into the hot house of the pro game. They invariably come a cropper in the process and, astonishingly, leave pleased with themselves.
The experience can surely be compared to letting your trousers down in public. As well as revealing your shortcomings, you are also exhibiting your inadequacies. Public flashers, however, are met with derision; celebrities who perceive of themselves as top- notch golfers always generate sympathy. Why? Well, it's because the poor sad sods are playing out a fantasy every golfer shares.
For some it simply isn't enough to receive a smattering of polite applause in a pro-am event. Many are familiar with resounding accolades in their branch of the entertainment industry and they crave the same on the golf course. Somehow they see the pro-golfer as effortlessly making easy money. They cannot equate that the work they put into developing their own special craft is at best equal to the hours required to achieve the excellence of golf epitomised by the successful pros.
The latest to cause a press sensation has just emerged in South Africa. A native of that country who has represented the USA in two soccer World Cups, the 37-year-old Roy Wegerle is not exactly a household name outside of Luton. He, we learn, was the town's striker when they reached the dizzy heights of a League Cup final. His footballing contemporary, Julian Dicks, a former West Ham full-back tried and failed to gain a place on the European Tour last year. These two lesser celebrities have caused a minor press sensation with their assault on the game; they are not the first and they will certainly not be the last.
But the press excitement these guys generated was as nothing compared to the claims made for Bing Crosby and Bob Hope in their day when they hinted that they might chance their hands on tour. The lesser lights of Donald Peers (ask your Mum) or Jimmy Tarbuck (ask your sister) never went as far as to say it but their press agents would like you to have thought that they were at least good enough to give the pros a run for their money. Nigel Mansell (pictured above), a one-time formula 1 driver, quickly discovered that his driving was not of the top formula and Ivan Lendll learned that, unlike Wimbledon, golf courses had a rough element.
In the same way that Justin Rose has discovered that the dark continent is a place of rich pickings, the aspiring celebrity pros see it as a land of opportunity. The Springbok fly-half, Lance Sherrell, is still at it after several attempts to make the cut on the Sunshine Tour. He pre-qualified for the not exactly renowned Wild Coast Masters but missed the cut by 10 strokes. He did, however, make the cut on the Winter Tour in SA and made £90. Doubtless enough to keep his spirits up.
Frankyln Stephenson, the West Indian cricketer, is another who has descended upon the Sunshine Tour. But the almost unplayable slower ball that brought him notoriety on the world's test wickets left him short of every cut in Africa.
It is simply amazing that talented athletes in other sports cannot see realistically where they stand in the swing of things in golf. If one lingers on the practise tee at any pro-am it is not difficult to differentiate between the pros and the ams. Even those threatening mere mediocrity in the pro ranks hit the ball with an altogether different authority. Alan Hanson's talent extends to virtually every game with a ball in it and he plays golf remarkably well. Like his compatriot Gary Lineker, he is a cultured athlete with excellent hand eye co-ordination and a fluid swing.
Yet, juxtaposed to pros (many whose names are unknown to me) on the practise tee at Kingsbarns in preparing for the Dunhill Links Championship, their apparently flawless swings took on a hurried and laboured look when compared to the pros. Similarly with Ian Botham. In practise with Torrance and Woosnam, Botham looked excellent in every department of the game until he took the club back.
It was Sam Snead who said that: 'Comparing an amateur golfer with a pro golfer was like comparing tennis with ice hockey.' Peter Thomson put it this way: 'Comparing a top pro to a scratch amateur is like comparing a scratch player to a 20 handicapper.' A twenty-stroke difference may seem a lot but few who have played in pro-ams would disagree. It isn't how far these guys hit the ball or how well they play long irons, it is simply that they always seem to manage to get the ball into the hole in fewer strokes than the rest of us.
As well as qualifying school there should be psychological assessment tests for those aspiring to pro tournament golf. Thankfully, the majority of us know to leave our dreams on the practise ground.
|| 22 - JANUARY 2002