View From The Fairway - Average Age of Golfers Falls in UK
AN ADDITIONAL 2.3 million adults played golf in the UK and Ireland last year despite the lockdown caused by the pandemic. That is a serious increase in playing numbers, and the R&A says that the sport must seize the opportunity to build on that. The numbers playing on a nine or 18-hole course in the UK increased to 5.2 million - the highest figure recorded this century. In Ireland there was an increase of 219,000 on-course players to 540,000. Phil Anderton, chief development officer at the R&A, said: "We have seen a real surge in the number of golfers in Great Britain and Ireland. This is reflected by the high demand for tee times and clubs reporting a strong interest in membership last year. It is vital that golf seizes the opportunity to maintain this heightened interest by offering new and returning golfers compelling reasons to stay within the sport and enjoy it with friends and family.” The best news of all is that In the UK, the average age of golfers fell by five years to 41. Some 25% of female golfers were new to the sport and tried it for the first time during the Covid-19 pandemic. Golf cannot be complacent - these new players must be retained, and the game must continue to look at ways to get more women and youngsters involved. This is a start, but it is nothing more than that.
MUCH has been made of the lack of diversity in golf but I am delighted to tell you that some progress is being made in one area, namely the appointment of women to influential positions. Hot on the heels of the announcement of Hannah McAllister as chief executive of Wales Golf, comes news that the LPGA has named Mollie Marcoux Samaan as its next commissioner. She will take over from Mike Whan. Marcoux Samaan - currently the Director of Athletics at Princeton University - will become the ninth commissioner in LPGA Tour history. She said: "I'm passionate about the game of golf and have been an LPGA fan since I was a little girl. I'm truly inspired by our Tour players and teaching professionals. I'm excited to dive into the LPGA initiatives to impact women and girls in the game at every age and ability. I believe passionately that sports have the power to change the world. And in this moment in time - with the positive energy around women's sports, women's leadership and society's commitment to diversity, equality and inclusion - I believe the LPGA has an incredible opportunity to use our platform for positive change.” So, not only a woman but a woman who is a genuine fan.
AND speaking of diversity, the European Tour has announced four new UK-based events for golfers with disabilities as part of the new 2021 European Disabled Golf Association European Tour. Twenty players from the World Rankings for Golfers with Disability (WR4GD) will get the opportunity to play the same course set-up as European Tour professionals, with 36-hole tournaments taking place over four consecutive weekends in July and August. Ten of the players will feature at the Wales Open at Celtic Manor from July 24-25 and the ISPS Handa World Disability Invitational at Galgorm Castle the following week, with the other 10 competing at the Hero Open at Fairmont St Andrews from August 7-8 and the EDGA English Open at London Golf Club from August 14-15. The top four players from each group of two tournaments will then qualify for the season-ending EDGA Dubai Finale, held alongside the European Tour's DP World Tour Championship in November. Keith Pelley, chief executive of the European Tour, said: "We are extremely proud to showcase the EDGA European Tour at five of our events in 2021 and we are delighted to once again provide golfers with disability the opportunity to play alongside our professionals during the UK Swing as well as at our final Rolex Series event of the year. We are recognised as golf's global Tour and our core values of inclusivity and innovation are at the heart of these tournaments. As part of our wider Golf For Good campaign, we want to illustrate once again the unique benefits our sport offers to everyone who plays the game.” The Golfers with Disability initiative was launched at the 2019 British Masters at Hillside Golf Club and the inaugural 2019 EDGA Scottish Open was won by Brendan Lawlor - the first professional golfer with a disability to play a European Tour event - at The Renaissance Club. Former world number one George Groves went on to win the 2019 EDGA Dubai Finale before the initiative was paused in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Make no mistake - this is not a gesture, these guys can really play and the European Tour is to be lauded for giving them the opportunity to showcase their talents.
YOU can’t have failed to notice that there is a bit of, erm, tension between Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau. It all began when Koepka criticised DeChambeau's pace of play and has continued ever since. It came to a head again at the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island when DeChambeau dared to walk past Koepka when the latter was giving a post-interview. The expression on Koepka's face told you everything you need to know about the state of their relationship. It is safe to assume that Steve Stricker will not be pairing them together at the Ryder Cup.
IT WAS difficult to understand why Rory McIlroy was installed as pre-tournament favourite at the PGA Championship. Even he said so. Yes, he won the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow but, as he admitted himself, that was a course where he was able to get away with wayward tee shots. And he hit plenty of them. Kiawah Island is a very different proposition, McIlroy says he knows that he still has a great deal of hard work to do before he gets anywhere close to his best again. His final round was typical of his performance over the previous three days, with occasional flashes of brilliance combined with careless mistakes and a number of missed putts from short range as he mixed four birdies with as many bogeys. “It was more of the same, very average," was his blunt assessment of his final round. "I couldn't really get anything going and it was a day where you had to get off to a fast start. The first few holes were playing a lot easier than they have done, and I didn't do that, just sort of got stuck in neutral. I still have a way to go with everything. I just need to figure out a driver, as well. I just haven't driven the ball as well as I know that I can for a long time, and that's really the foundation of my game. Once I'm driving it well, everything becomes so much easier. "I just haven't driven the ball like myself for a while. Probably haven't driven the ball like myself since 2019, so I need to figure it out. I didn't understand the high expectations before Kiawah Island. You go to somewhere like a Quail Hollow and you can hit bad shots and still go find your ball and play it and hit great recovery shots. Kiawah Island is so penal that you can’t.” His next stop is Muirfield Village, another course that will find you out if you are not at your very best.
WHILE all the focus was quite rightly on Phil Mickelson’s incredible achievement in winning the PGA at the ripe old age of 50, Brooks Koepka deserves a huge amount of credit for giving Lefty a run for his money. Koepka was quite clearly in a great deal of discomfort as he played one of the toughest courses on the planet while nursing a painful knee injury. It is fair to assume that had this not been a major he wouldn’t have been playing. Let’s hope that the American gets back to full fitness soon.
PADRAIG Harrington rolled back the years with a joint fourth finish at Kiawah Island and immediately found himself fending off questions about whether he might pick himself to play in the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits laster this year. He quite rightly dismissed such thoughts as fanciful. What was of far more relevance was the form of the man he shared fourth place with, Open champion Shane Lowry. He will defend his title at Royal St George’s in July and is quite clearly returning to his best form at exactly the right time. Don’t be surprised to see him winning again sooner rather than later.
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