It?s extremely rare that we journalists get things wrong but I must confess that I did recently when asked to play in the Portugal Nations Cup. Now you must understand and not feel jealous when I tell you that I get invited to a number of great golf destinations at the behest of tourist boards and the like. The hope is that I will accept, have a great time and write something nice about the places I visit. Quite often the organisers of these press trips arrange a modest tournament for the attending journalists and endow their decidedly low-key competitions with rather pretentious titles. This year, for example, I have already performed poorly in a number of these including the Hungary Cup, the Maple Leaf Trophy (Canada) and the Upper Silesia Media Challenge. So when I accepted an invitation to play in the Portugal Nations Cup I anticipated an untidy tussle in the Algarve with a motley assortment of scribes from across the continent.
The first clue that the Portugal Nations Cup might be something rather more important came as I queued to board the plane at Gatwick. There, dressed elegantly in smart blazers with the English Golf Union crest on their breast pockets, were three, athletic, young lads. I recognised one of them as Ben Evans, an exceedingly promising golfer, charming chap and past winner of the Nick Faldo World Series.
Since I am one of those conscientious journalists who can?t really rest until the truth is uncovered, I asked Ben why he was flying to Portugal. When he told me it was for the Portugal Nations Cup, I thought what a strange coincidence that there should be two competitions with the same name. Before you condemn me outright for breathtaking stupidity, I should like to say in my defence that what wits I usually carry about my person had been fatally dulled by an interminable five-and-a-half hour delay to our GB Airways? flight. Since I dutifully arrived at the North Terminal two hours before the advertised time of departure, I had been metaphorically twiddling my thumbs for somewhere approaching eight hours.
The second clue that the Portugal Nations Cup was something rather more than just a journos jolly was to be found at Faro Airport. The Renault Clio that I picked up from Europcar was plastered with stickers proudly bearing the Portugal Nations Cup logo. The real clincher, however, and the point at which the Euro finally dropped, was when I entered my hotel room in Vale do Lobo to find a copy of the Rules of Golf thoughtfully placed on my pillow. ?My God,? I thought, ?they?re taking this rather seriously.? As if that wasn?t enough to send alarm bells ringing around my weary head, inside the welcome pack were two, tightly-typed, pages entitled ?Conditions of Competition.? My reddened eyes alighted on the fifth paragraph, which was sub-headed ?Format?. ?The competition will be played over three rounds of 18 holes stroke play. The total of the two lowest 18 hole scores of each Team constitutes the Team score for the round.? Despite being thoroughly exhausted, I couldn?t sleep. From being a gentle game with a few fellow hacks, the golf had metamorphosed into an absolute nightmare. Strokeplay, ugh! How was I going to explain to my fellow England Internationals ? Ben Evans (plus 4.1), Chris Wood (plus 4.0) and Ben Parker (plus 4.0) ? that I?m a Stableford specialist and the last time I played to my handicap in a medal round the Beatles were at number one and Harold Wilson was Prime Minister?
The lack of sleep certainly contributed to my lacklustre performance the next morning when I accompanied them around Vale do Lobo?s glorious Ocean course. Moments before teeing off, I was hugely relieved to discover that the Press-Am (one journalist plus three who knew what they were doing) that I was about to play in was only a curtain raiser to the main event that was to follow over the next three days when I, of course, wouldn?t be required. Furthermore, only one score was to count on each hole. Yippee!
The two Bens and Chris played absolutely brilliantly and our team score was a remarkable 15 under par, to which I modestly contributed one nett eagle and one nett birdie. We beat Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Netherlands, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Wales and I enjoyed arguably the greatest triumph in my so far spectacularly unsuccessful career. Thanks fellahs.