View From The Fairway - Hope for Return of Golf in England
WHEN Darren Clarke won The Open in 2011 it was the culmination of a dream for the Ulsterman. He had come close before and had performed heroics at the Ryder Cup, never more so than at the K Club in 2006, shortly after the death of his beloved wife Heather. Clarke lost form after his Open victory. Having achieved his lifetime goal, perhaps he simply struggled for motivation. And there were no signs of any improvement in his fortunes when he turned 50 and joined the Champions Tour. But, from nowhere, Clarke has won back-to-back tournaments. He claimed his second straight PGA Champions Tour win with a two-stroke victory in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai in Hawaii. Clarke played the back nine in six-under to close out with a 64. "Just to win again is certainly very gratifying," Clarke said. "I love the Champions Tour. The guys have been so good to me out here since I've been out here, so welcoming. And the standard is so high, just it's incredible. The guys really flat out can play. I've been fortunate these past couple tournaments.” Clarke finished at 21-under 195 at Hualalai Golf Course. He won the TimberTech Championship in Boca Raton, Florida, in early November in his final tour start last year. It is good to see Clarke enjoying his golf again.
IT IS especially refreshing to see so many of Europe’s best players eschewing the PGA Tour as they aim to secure early Ryder Cup points. We had Rory McIlroy playing in Abu Dhabi and the likes of Paul Casey, Ian Poulter, Shane Lowry, Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson and Tyrrell Hatton playing in Dubai with mixed fortunes. And have you seen the field that is lined up for the Saudi International later this week? Viktor Hovland makes the trip across the Atlantic, along with Americans Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed, Tony Finau, Kevin Na and the evergreen Phil Mickelson. There will have been financial incentives involved in attracting some of those players but the strength of the fields is good news for everybody taking part because it means there will be more world ranking points on offer.
GOLF courses across England, Northern Ireland and Wales have been closed all year as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown, but there is some hope that things could change when Boris Johnson announces his next review of the restrictions on February 15. He has said that he is now "looking at the potential of relaxing some measures” and that could mean the green light being given to club golf returning in some shape or form - probably in two balls once again. "We are looking at the data as it comes in and looking at he rates of infection," said Johnson. "But before then we will be looking at the potential of relaxing some measures.” There is hope by many in the golf industry that the sport can ease back into two-ball forms of the game by the end of February. Johnson said: "Now this massive achievement has been made of rolling out this vaccination programme, I think people want to see us making sure we don't throw that away by having a premature relaxation and then another big surge of infection. We're going to be looking at where we've got to on February 15. We'll be deciding before then whether we'll be getting schools back, but daily we're looking at data and deciding when we'll be looking to lift restrictions.”
THE lockdown is creating financial pressures for golf clubs around the country. Typical of those is Harwood Golf Club, where members have missed out on around four months of golf since March last year. Mike Schofield, the club secretary, says that members have been incredibly understanding. He said: “They have been extremely supportive of the club. We usually do very well will external functions but the bar has been shut so we have lost nearly 12 months of income there alone. There’s a really good, strong management team, we’ve had to manage it extremely carefully and keep spending to a minimum to get through.” Schofield says that the club, which has more than 400 members, does not expect members to ask for a refund on their subscription. "The club is trying to find a way to give members a discount, whilst also balancing the books to make up for lost income,” he said.
Brooks Koepka and his long-time instructor, Claude Harmon III, have split. Although the split has only just been officially announced, Koepka actually met Harmon at The Masters last year and told him that he “wanted to go in a different direction”. Ironically, The Masters was won by Dustin Johnson, another of Harmon’s charges. Koepka and Harmon have worked together since 2013, shortly after Koepka turned pro out of Florida State. During their time together, Koepka won four majors and reached No1 in the world. “I love Claude, we had a great run and he’s still family to me," Koepka said, "but unfortunately we’re not working together anymore.” The American has struggled to find his best form since returning from knee surgery.
The 2022 PGA Championship has a new home. It will now be staged at the fearsome Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma from May 19-22 after the decision was taken to move it from Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey. The Perry Maxwell-designed layout has hosted seven previous men’s majors but none since the 2007 PGA Championship, which was won by Tiger Woods. The club also hosted the 2009 U.S. Amateur, won by Ben An. “We are excited to return to SHCC for the fifth time,” the PGA of America tweeted. “The course offers a tough-but-fair test for the strongest field in golf.” Two years ago, an $11m restoration project led by Gil Hanse was completed, bringing Southern Hills back to its 1936 roots. There will obviously be some excitement about Woods’ prospects but before any of us get carried away about the idea of him landing his 16th major there is the small matter of waiting to see how he recovers from the latest medical procedure on his ailing back.
There was some good news this week with the long-awaited announcement of the Challenge Tour’s schedule for 2021. It will comprise 25 tournaments in 15 different countries. The schedule features a mix of new and long-standing events in a season that is due to run from April until November, with 20 European Tour cards available for the cream of the crop. The season will begin with the Limpopo Championship in April, the first of three co-sanctioned events with the Sunshine Tour in South Africa, and will end almost seven months later at the Challenge Tour Grand Final in Mallorca.
And finally, spare a thought this week for 27-year-old Kamalu Johnson. Growing up, he never knew his father and was mentored by an assistant pro at his local municipal golf course. Having waited all his life to make his first start on the PGA Tour, all his dreams came true when he was given a spot in the field for the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. Imagine how Johnson felt then when he tested positive for Covid-19 two days before the tournament began and was forced to withdraw. “To say that I am disappointed would be a massive understatement,” he said. “I’ve dreamt of playing on the PGA Tour for a long-long time, but health and safety comes first. It’s at times like this you have to focus on the bigger picture and in my experience a fork in the road often has an interesting way of leading to new opportunities.” And the good news is that he has received an invitation to take part in the Honda Classic.
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