Where Golf Runs in the Blood
All centuries but this, and every country but his own
Such reprobates are on Ko-Kos famous little list of people who should be dispatched if executions ever come back into fashion in Gilbert & Sullivans light opera, The Mikado. While I generally agree with Gilbert on this one, Im going to risk being the thing he reviled.
The reason: Golf, the way it should be, is getting too hard to find in this country.
Ive been fortunate enough to visit Scotland twice. Of course, I took my clubs. I never tire of telling people that Scottish golf is one of those rare travel experiences that actually lives up to its advance billing.
Golf in Scotland is so deeply ingrained in the fabric of life that the game should have an ancient tartan all its own. Im not talking about the championship-course, five-star-hotel aspect of it, although thats fun. Its more the fact that nearly every little town has a course, just as so many New England villages have quaint town squares.
On these unassuming courses, unassuming people play golf the way American kids play baseball and Canadian kids play hockey. Its as natural as breathing. They play quickly and enthusiastically, on their feet, without a care for shaft flex, mower height, or whether theres Bookers at the clubhouse bar.
Some of the unassuming courses happen also to be championship caliber. Royal Dornoch, in the far north of the country, holds a special place in the hearts of golfers the world over, from the anonymous to the likes of Ben Crenshaw and Tom Watson. The people in the tiny town of the same name know what a treasure they have, but they dont treat it as a museum piece.
If you live in Dornoch, you must play golf. Thats all there is to it, says local Sandee Mackintosh. She said this to Lorne Rubenstein, the noted Canadian golf writer who spent a summer in Dornoch and wrote a book about it. (Talk about envy)
The book, A Season in Dornoch (Simon & Schuster), evokes the true spirit of links golf, and in so doing, points up the differences between the game in the Auld Sod and the version we find in the United States.
Speed of play is religion over there. No one feels the need for the courses to be wall-to-wall swaths of emerald green. Fun is paramount, but matches are taken seriously. Initiation fees and dues are in the hundreds of dollars, not tens of thousands, and no one has ever heard of a dining minimum. There are no outsize greens fees.
Carts are for players with medical infirmities. Otherwise, you walk. There is consideration for other players on the course. The devotion to fast play assures a feeling of openness on the course, the happy end of the search for scale, for proportion, for perspective, as Rubenstein writes.
I wonder what happens when too many people crowd a space, and believe something essential is lost in the game when a course is clogged with golfers, Rubenstein continues. Nobody enjoys it when golfers knock against one another. A golf course is not an elevator in an office building at closing time; it is a landscape meant to allow for breathing room and walking room and space to join with others, but not for golfers to overwhelm each other.
We all play because we love it, and we smile because we can. But how many of us long for what Rubenstein describes?
Most of us, Id say.
Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore
Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.
Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.
There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.
Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.
The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.
Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again
Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.
Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.
It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.
Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.
While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.
McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call
Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.
Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.
The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.
McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.
McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.
Fleetwood rallies to defend Abu Dhabi title
The 2018 European Tour season has begun just as the 2017 one ended: with Tommy Fleetwood's name atop the standings.
Facing the most difficult conditions of the week, Fleetwood charged down the stretch to shoot a 7-under 65 in the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, good enough for a two-shot win and a successful title defense.
Abu Dhabi was the start of Fleetwood's resurgence a year ago, the first of two European Tour victories en route to the season-long Race to Dubai title. This time around the Englishman started the final round two shots off the lead but rallied with six birdies over his final nine holes to reclaim the trophy.
Fleetwood was five shots behind countryman Ross Fisher when he made the turn, but he birdied the par-5 10th and then added four birdies in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 12-16. The decisive shot came on the final hole, when his pitch from the left rough nestled within a few feet of the hole for a closing birdie.
Fleetwood's 22-under total left him two shots ahead of Fisher and four shots clear of Rory McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick. After entering the week ranked No. 18, Fleetwood is expected to move to at least No. 12 in the world when the new rankings are published.