Fantastic stuff yesterday afternoon, listening to the Ryder Cup denouement on Radio 5 Live. They are calling it Monty’s finest hour. But what a year for nerves-of-steel G-Mac. The US Open, Welsh Open and now the winning hole in Ryder Cup. Not a bad hat-trick. Loved it.
I wasn’t alone. I gather another 28 million others tuned in to events at Celtic Manor. Johnny Inverdale was the ring-master, whipping up the atmosphere and encouraging his audience to skive off work a bit longer. That’s what you get for a Monday finish. He was also responsible for classic piece of radio journalism early in the day. John was queuing up for a bacon butty and indulging in a bit of open mic vox pops. “Hello Sir, can I ask you how you managed to get here today? Have you come far? Do you have an understanding boss? inquired our intrepid reporter. “I’m a marshall here actually”, came the straight faced reply. We can only hope for John that he wasn’t wearing his da-glo high-viz jacket with ‘MARSHALL’ stamped across the shoulders in six inch letters.
All this tension and drama is remarkably reminiscent of the golfing high jinx manufactured by the lads and I at our annual Arundel Masters tournament. Only last week we were to be seen ripping up the fairways (best to take that literally) at Avisford Park in a quiet corner of Sussex. This event is a now fixture in our Autumn diaries after its initiation as (one of) the stag weekend (s) for Bryn ‘Briny Baird’ Reynolds four years ago.
The golf might be short of quality, but the competition is never short of needle. This year, there were six of us. Slightly down on the high water mark of 2007. Paul ‘Azinger’ Leutchford and Nick ‘Nicklaus’ Jenkins were unanimously voted in as team captains for the Saturday Texas Scramble. That was the easy bit. Sorting out their supporting cast involved a bit of jostling and manoeuvring on account of Paul being head and shoulders better than the rest of us, Nick being clear next best and the need to balance the fully sighted players with the partially sighted lads – Bryn, Pete and Ad - or blindies. Forgive this apparent affront to political correctness. It is a term of affection (mostly) used by the guys themselves. We eventually settled on a six shot handicap for Paul – or so we thought - and his team of Bryn and Ad.
Out we strode into a gusty September morning, fuelled by a monstrous fried breakfast and Nick’s single malt-filled hipflask. Pete, Nick and I were up first. At this moment, every year, we pray for just one break: to get a good clean shot away off the first tee. In truth, anything over the ditch a mere 80 yards away would do. It’s not much to ask. But there’s a lot at stake here. This comp means a great deal to all of us. Poulter’s fist pumping and heart thumping would not be out of place here. So, inevitably, all our first shots were a pile of right old cack. One spannered left field, another barely limped past the ladies tee and the last slammed into the ditch on a trajectory never more than six inches above the turf. It is destined to be this way forever.
Still, Steve ‘Seve’ Clarkesteros, arguably the best amongst us (having once held that mystical stamp of greatness - the handicap mark) sets the highest standard on this hallowed first tee. In our very first year here, when the tension was tightest, the nerves most taught, Seve had us in raptures. His confident address of the ball using a vintage wooden wood, his poise over the ball, and his perfect description of an arc with his smooth backswing all had us purring. And then howling. The outcome was a beautiful, clinical and absolute air shot. No contact at all with the little white ball sat smugly on its tee. The club face whooshed through the remainder of its beautiful arc accompanied by hysterical hoots and the sound of apprehension bursting. I’m sure he’s delighted to be reminded of this highpoint.
So we were away, stutteringly, for the Arundel Masters IV. And it was the usual mix of sporadic encouragement in the form of acceptable drives, chips and putts completely overwhelmed by a litany of duffs, tops, slices and shanks. Nick bravely led our threesome from rough to scrub to bunker, just about holding the round together. Hole 13 is the biggest challenge. It’s only a par three but between the tee and the green lays The Ravine. The Chasm. The Gaping Canyon. We have variously christened this hole – with only the barest hint of melodramatic overplay – the hole of doom, the valley of gloom, and that f***in’ 13th. We lived up to its billing. Cap’n Nick went right, I hit a tree and Pete scooped into the bottomless pit. We took a painful drop under the sheer cliff face of that impossible green. Our disintegrating game was only cheered up by the grim looks on the faces of Paul’s team behind us. Knitted brows, stony stares, barely audible banter. We took a few more nips from the hipflask and warmed ourselves with thoughts that they were having more of a mare than us.
Back at the nineteenth, we pieced together the result. Paul had had a shocker on the outward nine but found his mark and had burned the fairways on the way home. Paul, Bryn and Ad finished in five shots fewer than us. I was a bit crestfallen and then Nick says “Excellent. We’ve won by one!” Yes, of course! The six shot handicap! Just shows how accurate the penalty was. Just one shot in it. But Ad was not having it. “No, that wasn’t serious. You can’t have that. We’ve won. Stop bleating.” I starting protesting. He turned round and taunted me with a “Diddums” rasped in my ear. I didn’t like that. I fear my face curled in to an ugly snarl as I responded with a heart felt “Back off Ad. I mean it!” It was the Azinger/Ballesteros Brookline ’99 incident all over again. After a tetchy stand off, I think Bryn conceded us the game. I think!
The bar in the hotel is OK, but it’s still a sterile hotel bar. Bitter like dishwater, prices like holy water. We’ve visited the Black Horse boozer just down the road in previous years. I say just down the road. It’s a busy road in the dark with no speed limit and no footway. And half of us are half blind. And often half cut. So that’s always an adventure. The Black Horse has been the scene of some amusement in years passed. Bryn being lined up for the two gay landlords on his stag night springs to mind. As does an evening verging on the farcical, spent entirely making up new names from footballers merged with drinks. Lowlights included Lomana KahLualua (genius Brynaldo) Highland Park Ji-Sung, and Boddingtony Adams. I think we even strayed onto planets at curious stage (JuPeter Schmeichel, Marc OverMars). Dread to think what we came up with for Uranus. Help me out here boys…this just doesn’t seem so funny when it’s written down. Come to think of it, Nick didn’t seem to find it so achingly belly-laughable at the time either. Nevertheless, Monty should have called us in for some motivational talks before the Ryder Cup singles finale.
Anyway, sad to report that after our dice with death down Yapton Lane last weekend, the pub is now shut. Not closed down, thankfully, just not open on an evening. Clearly one night’s bustling business per year built around subtle word play is not a sustainable business model.
I seem to recall that night ended with an epic bits and pieces pop quiz in mine and Nick’s bedroom. Rock and Roll is not dead. Avisford Park Hilton had thoughtfully provided each room with a complimentary 1/3 third bottle of cheap red wine. After the bar had been drained, the lads brought theirs along. I think three of us had done the name-that-tune tapes and Nick had brought his ghetto blaster along. So, fuelled by thin cab sauv we identified our way through snippets of Motorhead, REM, Kylie and God only knows what else until the night porter brought events to a swift close. He’d had had enough of complaints about crap 1980’s europap emanating from room 213. I think it was late. A few short hours later we were more or less woken up by urgent thumping on the door and shouts of “Morning lads. Sleep well!” Our neighbours leaving early, I suspect. No-one made the golf course that morning.
Unlike last weekend. Three of us turned out on Sunday morning for our third round of the weekend. No visible improvement from Friday though. This rubbish about getting better with practice is obviously just that. Monty’s successor needn’t send scouts out to Avisford Park for his wild cards next Ryder Cup. But we’ll be there just in case.