It would be wrong to pretend that there are many advantages to being a lifelong early bird, but one of them is the opportunity it gives an individual to watch, live on television, era-defining events (often sporting) taking place in the United States of America which, depending upon which time zone the venue is in, are five hours or more behind UK time.
The Valhalla private golf club in Louisville, Kentucky – birthplace of Muhammad Ali some 72 years ago – has been 100% owned by the Professional Golfers Association of America since 2000 and has just hosted its fourth PGA Championship since 1996.
After rising from my bed at 0040 hours because I had awoken and was ready to do so, I came to my front room, made a coffee, fired up my laptop and switched on the television to watch the last five holes of professional golf’s final Major of 2014.
Having worked in television myself, I am fully aware of the capability of high end broadcast-quality cameras to ‘kid’ viewers that late finishes to outdoor sporting contests are played out in near-perfect light when in fact the participants are having to deal with something quite different.
It used to happen regularly at Wimbledon before Centre Court acquired its roof – can still do so on the outside courts – and, occasionally, it happens in golf whenever the weather delays, or possibly terminally-slow play, causes the event to over-run.
Pursuit of the broadcasting dollar, the schedules of elite players and sometimes the logistics and pride of the administrators of the organising body and/or host venue all conspire together to underpin a general determination to finish on the advertised day, rather than spill over into a ‘morning after the Lord Mayor’s Show’ anti-climax on a Monday.
Nevertheless, it very nearly happened at Valhalla overnight.
Personally, I have never previously seen a golf tournament, let alone a Major, at which the officials on the course intervened to allow players in the group behind to hit their drives before those in front had walked to their balls in order to play their second shots. The Sky commentators, including in their number the great American guru Butch Harmon, made repeated references to the semi-darkness in which the Championship was finishing (“far worse than the impression given by the cameras”), so I knew that the state of the light must be dreadful.
Coverage of the immediate aftermath of the outcome – a deserved one-shot victory by the Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy – seemed to confirm this. Viewers at home, watching brief snatched interviews with the new champion and other players, together with shots of the melee of caddies and officials against a background of the evaporating crowd, could have been forgiven for thinking that they had tuned into some sort of all-night rave at throwing-out time.
Early last night, I had been watching as a monsoon-like downpour, unusual in that it was unaccompanied by thunder and lightning, reduced the Valhalla course to something akin to the Somerset levels at the time of last winter’s flooding, causing proceedings to be suspended for over two hours.
To my eyes, the resulting course conditions had rendered further play yesterday quite impossible. Goodbye to my intended evening viewing, hello to a Monday afternoon (UK time) conclusion …
Vague references were made to the new drainage system at Valhalla, including some sort of artificial ‘sponge’ system that could dry out bunkers in minutes, but I just couldn’t believe that they might be effective in such conditions.
Well, hats off to the PGA of America and its ground staff! By the time I had re-surfaced in the wee hours, the last few playing groups were already well into their back-nine.
Elite professional golf often makes for some of the best televised sport in the world because – with hundreds of cameras around the course – there is always something happening if you want to watch it, but equally you can also take a comfort break, make a cup of tea or a meal, go across the road to buy another newspaper, have sex … and just return to pick up from where you left off.
In all sports there occur great moments that people remember years, and even decades, later for their epic or far-reaching nature.
However, in golf, it is debateable whether – for example – Tiger Woods winning the 2000 US Open by a margin of 15 shots should be regarded as a greater golfing moment than the fare provided overnight by Valhalla, in which the drama continued right to the final hole and, as the last pairing of Wiesberger and McIlroy reached the 16th tee, there were still at least four – and possibly five – players who might conceivably have won the tournament.
The final round of the 2000 US Open was effectively a triumphant coronation procession, heralding an unprecedented period of ten years of Woods global domination.
However, for me, the PGA Championship just finished is arguably its equal as a ‘golfing moment’. It not only provided a dramatic and compelling final round to match almost anything I can remember in the sport, but could easily also mark the beginning of a serious period of global domination by the young man from Northern Ireland.