Hats off to Sergio Garcia, one of the best-loved professional golfers in the world, for his ‘extra hole’ play-off victory in the US Masters,
I make no pretension to be a golf expert but my hunch is is that Sergio probably also stands as one of the world’s most favourite Spaniards – along with Seve Ballesteros and José María Olazábal – and, by the way, what a trio of fabulous, dashing, warm-hearted and courteous gents for any country to have representing it both within the sport of golf and generally.
Last night I spent the best part of threequarters of an hour on a call to my brother about important family matters before, in signing off, I asked him when Sky Sports’ coverage of the Augusta final round was beginning (because, before we began speaking, I had flicked around the sports channels trying and failing to locate the same). He replied “7.00pm” and I then looked at my watch and saw it displaying 7.02pm. “I’ll get right on it …”, I responded, “… but only for an hour or so because I’m completely knackered …”. In contrast my brother indicated he would be staying up to watch it to the ‘death’, which he estimated would take place about 1.30am UK time.
I quipped “Well, I’ll probably see it then – it’ll be about then I’ll be waking up to begin my day shift!”
I wasn’t wrong.
I came to my front room, made myself a large cup of black coffee and switched from listening to the live commentary on Radio Five Live to watching Sky Sports’ coverage on my television.
Justin Rose and Sergio were walking forward to make their approach shots to the 17th green at the time. I therefore watched the final denouement unfold: the putting out, the walk to the 18th tee, the near perfect drives, Justin’s slightly lucky bounce off the bank back straight towards the pin, Sergio’s exceptional chip to within yards of it … and the ‘tie’ that mean that had to travel back down the course and do it all over again.
One of the great things about televised golf – and I’m not dipping my toe into the ‘attendance versus television’ debate in saying it because, if I was to be granted the opportunity to attend just one sporting ‘bucket list’ event in the flesh, it would almost certainly be the final day of the US Masters – is the quality of the camera work and the commentaries/analysis.
Especially at Augusta, where the setting is so magnificent and the sense of tradition and annual ‘history in the making’ so all-pervading. As a Brit it is hard to suppress my cradle-acquired national inner arrogance that the Mother Country is pre-eminent when it comes to mounting major sporting events, yet I’m happy to concede that, when it comes to golf, the US Masters takes the biscuit.
Firstly, as Garcia and Rose putted out on the 18th first time around, in that deep-brown, clipped, understated burr of his that infuses the viewer with a sense that he is reading from a sacred text written on stone tablets as dictated to him by God, Harmon announced that now the contenders would be moving to replay the 10th as the play-off hole.
When he then had to correct himself some ten seconds later by stating in fact it would be on the 18th again (adding that historically it always used to be the 10th) the surprise and shock that he had initially got it wrong was, for this viewer, akin to Peter O’Sullivan suddenly announcing to us at the end of his last Derby that the reason he’d decided to hang up his mike was that he’d always hated horse racing and couldn’t wait to head off to a rave in the wilds of Buckinghamshire with his head full of Ecstasy pills.
Secondly, after the drives from the play-off tee had left Rose, who had opened proceedings by driving wide right into the trees, ostensibly facing a risky deliberately-fading second shot through the pines and low-hanging branches if he was to reach the green (a near-requirement if he was to remain in contention), Butch could not contain himself when Rose opted instead simply to chip out back onto the fairway.
“I just don’t understand it – he’s effectively surrendered the Green Jacket to Sergio right then and there” was the gist of his reaction. Even when his co-commentator went a little way to contradict him, Harmon was having none of it, for him the contest was done and dusted – implying perhaps that – to win a Major and be a truly great all-time golfer, you had to positively go out and grab it, not play safe or, worse, ‘bottle it’ (as he felt Rose had just done).
In fact, as they reached the green in three (Rose) and Garcia in 2 – and closer to the pin to boot – the logic of Rose’s thinking and/or snap decision immediately became apparent.
At least, by clipping out onto the fairway – if he could thereafter pull off a half-decent approach to the green and give himself any sort of a makeable putt – at least Rose would be putting first and (if by any chance he should hole it) he’d finish on 4, giving Sergio a one-shot putt to make to win the Masters. Just the sort of situation in which nerves, the enormity of the occasion and indeed the opportunity to make history would tend to cause the strongest mind to doubt itself) – and we all know, as Sergio does, that Sergio had a back-story of several previous ‘folds under pressure’ in his locker.
It the event, of course, Rose’s tactic failed because he couldn’t achieve that damned one-putt finish that would shift the pressure back on his opponent.
And so the 2017 US Masters came to an end in front of a packed, colourful and respectful crowd.
They say that nice guys finish last, but that didn’t happen in the wee hours of this April UK morning.