Sam Torrance Interview: Bright Future For Professional Golf
SAM TORRANCE played in 706 tournaments on the European Tour, winning 21 times and collecting 5.4 million euros in prize money. He played in the Ryder Cup eight times on the spin from 1981 to 1995, famously breaking down in tears after holing the putt at The Belfry in 1985 that finally brought American domination to an end. And there were further tears of joy in 2002 when he captained Europe to another victory - that was the year when Paul McGinley drained the winning putt and ended up in the lake beside the 18th green. He also won 11 times on the Seniors Tour.
So if anybody is qualified to talk about the changing face of golf it is Torrance, who looked ahead to a bright future for golf with BoyleSports.com.
Keith Pelley, chief executive at the European Tour, recently announced that it is being rebranded as the DP World Tour with prize money being increased to around £150m - double the sum available in 2020-21. And when you take the majors into account that figures soars to £200m.
“I joined the European Tour back in 1972 and enjoyed every single minute of my time,” said the Scot. “What is happening with the launch of the DP World Tour is fantastic although I am sad that the DP World Tour Championship will effectively bring down the curtain on the European Tour after 50 years. It is now going to be a world tour, which is just extraordinary. And it will change even more as the years pass because it opens up a whole new dynamic where players can qualify from all parts of the world.”
During the pandemic, the merchants of doom predicted that sponsors would pull out on both sides of the Atlantic. The opposite has happened. Prize money on the PGA Tour also continues to rise, and then there are the vast sums of money being poured into the sport by the Saudis.
“Golf has been a very lucrative sport for a number of years. The fact that we have come out of the pandemic with this great future is down to the work of the men at the top, the likes of Keith Pelley. I think golf is in great shape, and there is plenty of money in the coffers,” said Torrance.
The DP World Tour will see tournaments played in Europe, the Middle East, Japan, South Africa. It is going to mean lots of travelling for those involved. But that is nothing new.
When Torrance joined the tour he also had to travel and he was happy to go wherever the tournaments were being played. “When I started in 1972 there was basically nothing in Europe before The Masters so we would go to Nigeria, Kenya, Zambia for four or five weeks, then have another five or six weeks in Asia, playing in places such as Hong Kong and Singapore. At the end of the year we would go to South Africa for another five or six weeks. There were also a few events in Japan - they were more difficult to get into but when you got there it was fantastic. We only played in Europe from after The Masters until September. We would be playing 12 months of the year. For an 18-year-old, I couldn’t have asked for more. The schedule was basically done for you."
There has been some criticism of the fact that Collin Morikawa and Billy Horschel can win the Race to Dubai despite playing next to no golf in Europe, but Torrance has no issues with this. “Morikawa won The Open, Billy Horschel came over to England and took the BMW PGA Championship. I am not sure how many other events they played in Europe but they played in all the World Golf Championship events and the majors, which count towards the Race to Dubai. That’s why they are leading the way. It’s a bit of a false front but they earned the money and the right to be there. You can’t take that away from them."
Many of the game’s elder statesmen have called for something to be done to restrict the distance that the top professionals hit the golf ball. Tony Jacklin, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player have all called for the golf ball to be changed. Torrance does not agree.
“I think it is fantastic that these guys hit the ball so far,” he said.
Torrance was taught the game by his late father, Bob, a renowned coach who worked with some of the world’s leading players, including three-time major champion Padraig Harrington. “My father taught me to make as big a shoulder turn as I could and learn to hit the ball as far as possible,” he said. “His view was that we would straighten it out later. Unfortunately we never quite managed that.” Torrance’s record would, of course, suggest otherwise.
“Right through my career, it was always about hitting the ball a long way. Today’s top pros have now taken it to a level that is beyond belief, just beyond belief. If you stand beside Rory McIlroy, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and watch the flight of the golf ball you find yourself asking, ‘How do they do that?’ Is it the future of golf, just skelping it and hacking it out to the green? No, I don’t think so. But these great players who have got this astonishing power have a great weapon in their armoury.
“By restricting the length of the driver shaft from January next year the rule makers have shown that there is a will to tackle it to some extent but I have no problem with DeChambeau hitting it 450 yards. As far as changing the golf ball is concerned, when you look at the amount of money all these great companies have put into development, I cannot see them reining that in.
“For me, if you want to curtail it then it is all about how you set up the courses. The perfect example was Le Golf National at the 2018 Ryder Cup, where if you missed the fairway you were dead and buried and hacking it sideways. I love watching these guys smash it and I certainly wouldn’t want to stop that."
After Europe’s chastening defeat in the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits there were calls for the qualification system to be revamped, but Torrance insists there is no need to panic.
“We’ve still got a pretty good recent record,” he said. “And there is a changing of the guard taking place. Some of the stalwarts of the European team are nearing the end of their careers but there are plenty of promising European youngsters, such as Viktor Hovland and the Hojgaard twins. I don’t think there is any need to change things.
“Sometimes you have just got to take a defeat on the chin. The fact that the Americans had six picks was beyond belief. Some of our guys didn’t make the team because they play so much in America and their performances there didn’t count, but the Americans play all their golf there so everybody has the same chance to make the team."
Torrance stopped playing competitively three years ago. He said: “I still play two or three times a week with my mates, but it’s no fun. It’s so bad it’s scary. But that is absolutely fine with me because I had a wonderful time in golf and I just need to get over myself and accept the crap that I play now.”
I had a seminal moment in the company of Sam Torrance. He was about 17 years of age, and I was 14 and we played 36 holes together in the West of Scotland Boys Championship at Lanark. Up until that moment, I had dreams of becoming a professional golfer. But when I watched Torrance strike a golf ball I knew that I had no chance whatsoever. Even allowing for the age difference, I realised there was no way that I could ever hit a ball the way he did.
And believe it or not, Torrance had a similar experience not long after he turned pro. “I was playing with a young Nick Faldo in the Manchester Open in one of my first tournaments on the European Tour,” he said. “I will never forget it. On the second hole he had maybe 210-220 yards to the pin, which was front left over a bunker. He hit a two iron that took off and soared up into the sky and came down like an old dog in front of the fire to about three feet and I turned to him and said that as long as I drew breath I could never hit a shot like that.
“But I had a ball. My dad took me through 50-odd years. I had a fabulous time. Bill Haas won the FedEx Cup in 2011 and won more in a week than I did in my whole career but I couldn’t have asked for more. I had plenty of money, saw some wonderful places and made some great friends. I only wish that I was young again.”
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