To Sunningdale for Open qualifying and a chance to enjoy a wander around one of my favourite places. Invited into the Members’ Bar for a reviving drink, I was surprised to see most of the seats taken up by 25 ruggedly young blokes, each tucking into an early lunch.
Turns out these were the greenkeepers who had been working on the course since 4am following heavy rain that threatened to scupper the day’s play. They looked tired but they also looked proud of what they had achieved in sorting out a saturated course, drowned bunkers and the like.
I once asked Brian Clough what was the most important factor for a terrific football match and he replied without hesitation…”Young man (I was young then) it is the pitch. Without a decent pitch even the best players in the world cannot show us what they can do.”
Cloughie, as usual, was right. And it is the same with golf. There is no point in being able to hit a 3-iron off a hanging lie if the ground beneath your feet resembles the foothills of the Himalayas. Being a greenkeeper means being in love with nature but also being prepared to do battle with your love on an almost daily basis. Greenkeepers, without doubt, are the most undervalued members of the golf world.
Anyway, after listening to their tales of derring-do much earlier that Monday morning I was introduced to an older Sunningdale member who was at one time on the Open Championship committee and he told me a nice Seve story. I won’t mention his name to save any embarrassment but here is his tale.
“I think it was at Lytham in ’97 and I was on duty around the first tee, booted and suited, R&A stuff all over me. I wandered over to watch Seve hit his opening shot and, to my horror, as the great man prepared to take his club back, the blessed radio in my pocket suddenly went off. It was a cardinal sin to have left it on and as Seve backed away and everyone looked at me I curled up in embarrassment.
“Seve saw it was me and as I blushed and tried to mumble an apology he strode over to me, grinned and asked ‘Was that the cricket score?’ before patting me on the shoulder. Everyone laughed and my bacon was saved. I’ll always be grateful.”
Ballesteros was so much more than a great golfer, so much more.