There’s nothing quite like seeing the top professionals up close, displaying their skills in the biggest events.
Neil and I have just spent an incredible few hours out on course at Royal Troon following Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama and Bubba Watson. We saw some great stuff, and some less great stuff, and we came away feeling we’d enjoyed an amazing experience.
I love watching golf on TV and there’s certainly a strong case for it being the better way to follow how a tournament unfolds. I’ve been seriously excited by golf I’ve watched on the box – I watch the final day of every Ryder Cup standing up – but I can’t say I’ve ever watched three hours of golf on the telly and felt it to have been an amazing experience.
Over lunch Neil and I talked about why being out there and up close to the action is the pinnacle of spectating and we agreed on the following:
Although you can see the results of great shots on telly, and now with pro-tracer you can even see the ball flight, you won’t feel the sound of the strike going through you, or hear the woosh of the ball as it blasts into the distance.
We were up close to the 10th tee as Rory, Bubba and Hideki drove off. The ball flight and the speed of the ball off the clubface from all three players was astounding. The ball flight Bubba produced was unlike anything I’ve seen from any player – starting ridiculously low and climbing to its apex over the towering sand dune in front, and then turning gently from left to right. It made me laugh involuntarily and shake my head in disbelief.
On the 11th, Matsuyama played an outrageously good long iron from about 230 yards out, into a freshening breeze. It left the clubface like a bullet; it never rose more than 25 feet in the air and cut through the wind like a knife through butter. As most of the gallery were supporting Rory, the effort elicited only a smattering of applause, but one obviously knowledgeable chap beside us said, to nobody in particular; “oh my god, that’s the best golf shot I’ve ever seen.” I don’t think I’ve seen any much better either.
The other key thing you can’t fully appreciate on TV is the tension that’s palpable from both players and spectators. We walked out to the loop and stopped to watch Danny Willett tee off the 7th. We found a vantage point high on a dune and looked down on the Englishman who appeared almost smothered by a throng of spectators surrounding the back and sides of the tee. They were expectant and there was utter silence. Danny and caddy talked about the line and you could really feel the importance of what was going on – Danny trying his utmost to win this great championship.
To feel a shared excitement with your fellow spectators and an appreciation for the occasion and the expertise of the protagonists is something you won’t get in your sitting room at home.
Wandering along discussing the putt you’ve just seen holed, stopping to check the leaderboard, taking a rest with a pint in The Open Arms, the sun beating down on the rumpled links, a breeze carrying the call of seagulls and the smell of fish and chips, distant roars as a birdie is made, the sea of colour in the gallery and the stands, the sound of a smashed drive and the resulting oohs and aahs… yes, watching live golf is the best!