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Switched on to the grand slam
Much of New York is built on Long Island but most of it is built upon irreverence, indiscipline and a singularly maverick disrespect for anything individualistic. New York flouts convention and pretension and sets its own standards with a yardstick of bloodymindedness.

Golf and New York are incompatible. New Yorkers are not the sort to help a man when he is down - they are the sort who kicks him. No time for losers, Monty was not well advised when he endorsed 'Be nice to Monty' badges; that was surely a put-up job, and Garcia hung out his vulnerability when he took 30 re-grips too many.

New Yorkers eat the idiosyncratic for brunch.

New York City Council has built several good golf courses that can be accessed by its citizenry at very reasonable rates. Bethpage Black is one such course and it, more than any other, expresses all of the characteristics that make New York the intimidating place that it is.

Bethpage is big, bad, mean and utterly disrespectful of golf as we know it and everything in it that makes the great game great. New York does not eschew finesse and subtlety - they are simply unknowns to it.

The discovery of Bethpage must have been like manna from heaven for the USGA on contemplating the staging of its Open Championship. The Association has in the past struggled to make monsters out of perfectly beautiful golf courses in the surely erroneous belief that the biggest hitter must be the best player. The USGA liturgy has long been about length and accuracy off the tee, which is all very well if there exists the possibility of recovery from error on the fairway and salvation on the putting surface.

When, however, the fairway can only just be reached off the tee - as was the case with about half of the field on one hole - and the rough so penalising that simply extricating the ball from it posed a health hazard, accusations of zealotry can justifiably be made. With greens so fast and slippery that butterflies would have difficulty landing on them, one wonders if the USGA is trying to find a great champion or a great survivor.

If Carnoustie was dismissed as too tough a test of much other than good fortune, Bethpage was too tough a test for anyone other than Tiger Woods.

Bethpage Black is the longest to date of all Open venues at over 7,000 yards. With a par of 70 it is clear that there are some stupendously long par four holes on it. But although the enormous length of the course was compensated with some generous landing areas, even the long hitters were required to play long irons into greens that were hard and slick - not at all the sort of surface that one wants to be hitting long irons into at all.

Bethpage was the perfect venue for Tiger Woods. The clubhead speed that he generates enables him to overcome rough that would impede an elephant. Also, while the majority were thumping long irons into glossy greens, Tiger was pumping in high iron shots that fell like bloated blowflies inviting birdies to finish them off.

The Tiger had essentially won this event before it began. He knew it and everyone in the field knew it. Fortuitous tee-off times on Thursday and Friday, as well as lies in the rough that a higher being surely had a hand in, only underlined his invincibility.

Tiger is now 50% along the way to taking all four major championships in the same calendar year. He has, of course, held all four simultaneously, but no one to date has done the modern grand slam and only a fool would give odds against him doing it this year. But fools abound and I'm afraid that I'm one of them.

It is the memory of Jack Nicklaus approaching Muirfield with great expectations after winning the Masters and the US Open in '72 that I cannot forget. Muirfield is a very special place. Jack thought that he had cracked it when he left the driver out of his bag. It was not until the last round when he found himself trailing Trevino and Jacklin that he took out his driver and returned a 66, which nevertheless left him one shot behind Trevino.

That shot cost him the calendar grand slam for he went on to win the USPGA in August. It would seem that you could be too smart for Muirfield, although the great shot-makers Trevino and Faldo would say otherwise.

After Muirfield, the Grand Slam will be concluded at Hazeltine in Minnesota where Jacklin made history in atrocious weather conditions. There are sceptics who would doubt that it would go as far as Minnesota but if Woods can survive Muirfield it is not unlikely that he will overcome Hazeltine.

Indeed, given that the Tiger's sinews continue to sustain the effort that he puts into hitting a golf ball, Bethpage proves that there is no course on the planet that the Tiger cannot overcome.



©    19 - JUNE 2002



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