After Robert Karlsson’s approach to the 18th hole in the second round of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth ended in the club’s controversial new water hazard, the Swede was certain his hopes of making the halfway cut had drowned. He finished with a double bogey seven and his score rose to three-over-par.
He was so certain he’d missed the mark, he boarded a plane home to Monaco. He made it to within touching distance of his front door before a phone call informed him that the cut line had drifted and he’d narrowly squeezed in. He immediately turned around and embarked on a £10,000 journey back to Surrey to make it for his 8.55am Saturday start time.
You might have thought this mad dash less than ideal preparation for an assault on the leaderboard but, with only two hours sleep, Karlsson went out in round three and shot a course record 62. An unbelievable achievement and one that proves tiredness and stress needn’t preclude the possibility of a good performance.
I was thinking of Karlsson as I hurtled down the M6 on Monday evening, destined for a round on Sunningdale’s Old Course at 8.15am on Tuesday morning. Two cans of Red Bull, three packs of Haribo Sour Mix and eight hours of Radio Two was surely the perfect recipe for a “wunder-round” on the grand old heathland course.
As I drove, the sports news revealed the pros had fired some amazing numbers at Sunningdale in Monday’s International Final Qualifying for the Open Championship – Shane Lowry had knocked it round the Old in 62 and Monty (putting off-course issues aside) had produced a heroic, course record-equalling, 62 on the New Course to earn a start at St Andrews. This firmed my belief I was destined for great things 12 hours later.
After a few hours broken sleep in the Premier Inn at Ascot I was woken by torrential rain battering the flat roof of the annex I was billeted in. Dry mouthed and sticky-eyed, I suddenly felt rather less buoyant.
Fortunately the rain had abated by the time the troops arrived at the clubhouse and a bacon roll, and the wonderful view down the first fairway from the windows of the Championship Room, lifted my spirits greatly.
Golf Monthly was at Sunningdale to play a match against a team from the Golf Club Secretary. It was going to be a real treat as the pins and spectator ropes were still out from IFQ and, we hoped, the greens would be at their very best.
We were not disappointed. The surfaces were probably the finest I’ve ever putted on – Unerringly true and extremely fast, though the overnight rain had slowed them slightly so mere mortals like us weren’t quaking too aggressively.
It proved to me just what a difference a top-quality putting surface makes. I’m normally pretty shaky with the flat stick, but on those silky greens I had complete confidence that, if a putt started on line, it would remain there. I holed a good one for birdie on the second and that opened the floodgates in our group.
I was partnering Paul O’Hagan from GM and we were up against Stephen Toon – secretary of Sunningdale and Steve Styles – who was at Frilford Heath until his recent retirement.
It was one of those wonderful rounds where we fed off each other’s successes and putt after putt found the bottom of the cup. In total, the group notched up 14 birdies and an eagle. We were laughing in disbelief towards the end of the round.
Paul and I managed a better-ball gross score of 61 – one better than Lowry, Monty and Robert Karlsson. Take that boys. OK, ok, it was a better ball score, but still…
In case you’re wondering, I hadn’t made the epic drive south just for a round of golf. I’d made it for two rounds of golf. The following day, yesterday in fact, the Association of Golf Writers were competing for the prestigious President’s Putter at Royal Ashdown Forest.
Royal Ashdown’s Old Course is a natural heathland layout that beautifully uses the lie of the land and it has been little tampered with for over 100 years. It’s a historic, supremely scenic and incredibly peaceful course. Unlike most layouts in the South East, even the most strained ear won’t pick up a trace of traffic noise.
There are no bunkers on the course but there’s no need for them as the undulating terrain, heather, streams and bracken provide more than enough defence.
My good form continued for the front nine at Royal Ashdown but I began to fade as we made the turn for home and the holes became tougher. My putting touch totally deserted me and, for the last five holes, I was firmly ensconced in the back seats of the “bogey bus” with no chance of alighting until the terminal. This did little, however, to diminish my enjoyment of what is a unique and highly challenging golf course.
After another nine hour drive yesterday evening/night, I’m now back at base camp and contemplating preparation tactics for next week’s club championship at Banchory. I’m currently considering the possibility of driving to John O’Groats and back just prior to round one.
For the record – Golf Monthly won the match at Sunningdale, though Michael Coffey (of The Golf Club Secretary) used a scoring system that would bamboozle the greatest mathematical minds in the country, so none of us were exactly sure how we did it.