Archive for August, 2009

Graduation time

Yes, it was England’s turn. The Home Internationals at Hillside finished with the team that had seven Walker Cup players in it at the top. I guess that in a way is what one could expect given that the other teams had three Walker Cup players between them. But the again, golf usually is not what you can expect. It is more like a box of chocolate, as Forrest Gump would have put it – you never know what you are going to get. Looking at the total number of match points that the two leading teams got, Scotland actually came out on top. Out of 15 points per day (5 foursomes and 10 singles) times three days for a total of 45 possible points, they took 30. England got to 29.5. I would say that is pretty impressive. But as the Championship is about how many teams you beat, it was England’s week.

I started the week at a very wet Gleneagles where the European Tour has stopped this week. Some of the players of this year’s Home Internationals teams will no doubt want to be there next year. Some of the probably will too. After the Walker Cup it will be up to them to go out and find a job. In professional golf that means going to a pretty rigorous interview process called Qualifying School, usually with a record breaking number of applicants each year. I hope they do find a job – and if not, there is always the alternative of another year at university, in amateur golf. Not all careers have that option!

Home Internationals

England in the Home Internationals (© Tom Ward)

England in the Home Internationals (© Tom Ward)

It is a big week, this one. The Home Internationals (I think it must be only in the UK you can play Internationals with the Home countries…), for a long time seen as the pinnacle event for amateurs in Britain. Even though it is now challenged by a number of other high profile events in the amateur calendar there is no doubt that it is one of the finest tournaments in the year. Teams of 11 players tee it up in 5 foursomes every morning and 10 singles in the afternoon. All four countries, England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, play each other to find a winner. To field 11 competitive players, strong enough to represent their country in the required way does call for some strength in depth and not many other countries would ever be able to compete with the Home Unions in this. The amateur culture just is not strong enough and most of those amateurs good enough to take part would have already turned professional before it is time to pick the time. To represent you country in an 11 men team, that is a pretty special thing though and perhaps it does serve as a spring board for players to go on to even bigger things. With the Walker Cup being just around the corner it will no doubt help to put those players in the match play mode they need to be at Merion against the USA.

When the ‘Homes’ started today England managed to beat Scotland 9.5 against 5.5 and Wales won against Ireland. You can follow the action with live scoring here.

A team sport?

Boys County Champions Surrey

Boys County Champions Surrey

Surrey won the Boys County Finals once again this week. This time around it was the third victory in a row. Not bad considering that they wiped the floor with everybody last year and then lost quite a few of their most prominent players to the age barrier. A good system does not rest though and I am sure it is not a surprise to those involved in junior golf in England that Surrey is there again to take the trophy.

For an individual sport like golf it is quite amazing how team sport still seem to be the driving force. But then again, perhaps it is not. Wanting to compete and the desire to win has always served as inspiration and good reasons to invest. Look at Premier League… I would argue that in golf the country with the strongest team ethos in their national setup is most likely to be successful. Why? Because that is the only way to create a somewhat level playing field. Individual setups mean money has to come from mom’s and dad’s pockets. Team competition means that there is a good chance somebody else will be prepared to pitch in. But of course it depends on how important the series of events are regarded to be. Premier League = very important = ridiculous amounts of money. American college golf = pretty important = good scholarships to individuals. English County Championships = important to the Counties and the EGU but perhaps not as important to the general golfer and supporter = some money going into it. 

The really tricky thing in golf will always be that where our funds to support and develop players come from (= the golfer) the biggest interest is when the next starting time can be found or how many points were scored in the last round. Of course golf is to blame for this as we have not managed to create an interesting enough product. Or perhaps the actual playing of the game is a bit ‘too’ interesting. But a County Championship is something to pray for and when every golfer in Surrey shares the passion for that Trophy with the kids on that picture, you know that something is going right!

The fourth major

Tiger Woods, going into the final round of a major with a bit of a cushion, I wonder what kind of odds the betting firms were giving for another major to go under Mr Woods belt? I doubt that you would have gotten any more than your money back. But as it happened, this was not an ordinary Sunday. A certain Young-Eun Yang from South Korea had other plans and when all was said and done on Sunday night at Hazeltine, it was an outcome that very few had expected. 75 on the final day when in the lead is not something that will happen that often to Tiger Woods but all our hats should be off to Yang who certainly did not look like a newcomer in the situation. It makes you wonder what kind of background you need to win a Major Championship. Here is what the PGA Tour website has to say about Yang’s personal history:

“Started going to a local driving range in Korea at age 19 on a friend’s advice…Spent required time in the South Korean military beginning at age 21. Guarded Naval port…Traveled to New Zealand after his military stay to pursue a golf career.”

Not exactly the kind of upbringing you would expect perhaps?

On Saturday it was an all English show down at the Boys Championships at Royal St Georges. Tom Lewis beat Eddie Pepperell in the final. Brian Roake, the England U18 Squad Manager has got excellent coverage on his blog!

Golf in the Olympics?

I guess one could say that it was a preliminary verdict delivered yesterday as the IOC Executive Board recommended two sports for inclusion in the Olympic Games from 2016. The full committee will vote in October and as they are not bound by their board’s recommendation golf is not fully there yet but let’s say we have had a good first round.

Of course now discussions will continue as to whether inclusion would be good or not. As for me I am convinced that it will be great. It will not, at least not at first, be a tournament with the kudos of the Major Championships. But it will put golf on the agenda in so many other countries that today would not even consider it. And it will be different. Golf is not exactly growing at the moment and this could be the change that we need.

As for what the tournament will be it shall be quite interesting to follow. The International Golf Federation has recommended a competition with 60 players in both the men’s and the women’s event. The top 15 in the World Rankings are guaranteed a place and then it will follow the rankings with a maximum of two players per country. They reckon this will mean participants from about 30 countries. If you go down the rankings to find 30 countries you soon realise that you will end up a long way down. No doubt there will therefore be the occasional Eddie the Eagle (the British Ski Jumper that competed in the Winter Olympics with his only target being to survive) taking place. And it is likely that the number of players with a fair chance of winning the event will actually be quite limited. On the other hand, that is no different from a 100m final!

Under 14 Championships

This week the Under 14 Championships for the Reid Trophy is being held at the Kendleshire Golf Club outside Bristol. For many of the players it will be a first taste of what golf at a fairly high level is like. The EGU know how to run their Championships and this one is not exception. The course will be properly set up, the referees all geared up and the scores posted on the big score boards outside the caravan. At the end of the tournament somebody will leave with a nice trophy, crowned as the best Under 14 golf in the country.

I always have mixed feelings about appointing National Champions at that young age. A number of the better players in the World had hardly started playing golf at that age, let alone found the fairway enough times to even consider competing at a National level. Others were already soon to become Champions and had dominated their age group for years already. The tricky one is that it is very difficult to determine who is going to go on to be the great player of the future. I have seen under 14 Champions disappear of the radar completely before the age of 19 which kind of makes you worry why we bothered to find out who the best under 14 was in the first place. I have seen other under 14 Champions become European Tour players before they left their teenage years. What I do wonder quite often though is why we insist of having this age focus in a sport like golf. It is not exactly a body contact sport, nor is it necessarily a sport where the development of the right playing mindset comes with age. It is for a fact a sport that we can play against like minded and like skilled regardless of age. In fact, that is what I think we should do a lot more of – play with those that give us a good challenge – regardless of how old they are. So instead of going to the World under 9 Championships as some parents seem to think is a great idea (and perhaps it is for all sorts of other reasons…), think about where that under 9 waiting to become a champion could get the challenge that he or she needs. I have a feeling that could be found at the next door club!

So is there then any reason to crown an Under 14 National Champion? Of course there is. Kids like to compete and fantastic inspiration an energy can come from having something like this as a target to aim for. The only problems are if the Champion starts thinking that he or she is now the best in the country or if the rest of the players in the field think they are not good enough, or worse, can’t become good enough. There are throusands of players in the country that are better then the Under 14 Champion. They just happen to be of a different age. So all the Champion needs to do is to go and find the next challenge. And for those that did not win – I guarentee that there are more top 10 players in the World that never won the Under 14 Championship than those that did!

A hidden gem

As I was leaving Hankley Common late last night the rain was pouring down. At the Boys Home Internationals the R&A had made the very clever move to set an earlier and a two tee start on the final day. A great big storm was forecasted for 5 o’clock. The timing was absolutely perfect as the last putt of the match had just been struck when the rain started to drop.

The R&A really do have a talent for finding some amazing places I must say. Hankley Common was completely unknown territory to me and as it was even in the prizegiving described as a ‘hidden gem’ I was not the only one being surprised.

Being a hidden gem (I think) in golf terms is seen as a positive thing. Golfers, and perhaps particularly members, like to have their course to themselves. And I guess that if you are a hidden gem in Surrey where the average income is pretty significant, you can still manage pretty well. There are enough members who would rather give their right arm than giving up the membership in the golf club, even when times like now are difficult. How this will develop in the future though will be extremely interesting to see. There might be enough people out their wanting to pay for the piece and quiet. Or the clubs that offer that today might have to open up to the market of ‘nomad golfers’ who would simply come to ‘pay and play’. One thing I do know though is that Hankley Common now have a sign by the main village road. They did not use to.

And in the Boys Home Internationals England did come out victorious after beating Ireland on the last day. Full update is available on the R&A website.

Sleepless selections

It has been a big weekend. The Walker Cup selectors met on Sunday to put names on the tickets for Merion in September. After I read Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons I struggle to picture anything other than his description of how the new pope was selected when I think of the selection committee. A group of very serious men gather in a room and when the white smoke comes out of the chimney the decision has been made. Although not quite that dramatic every selection is pretty important to the players concerned. If it is a trip to play the US in the Walker Cup it is a BIG deal and if it is to represent your home country in the Home Internationals it could be almost as big, especially if you have not done it before. All the Home Unions traditionally select their teams after the National Championships and Luke Goddard as the English Champion nicely made his way into the English team over the weekend.

Almost as sleepless as waiting to find out whether you have been picked or not is to have to deliver the verdict of non selection. As a player you obviously want to know why somebody else has been put in front of you, especially if you feel you deserve that spot. However, players do not pick teams. Selectors, coaches and managers do. Whenever I have struggled to deliver a difficult decision I have always been helped by the simple exercise to clarify what kind of information my senses have given me. “I saw” or “I heard” are the only two ways in which I can pick up information from the world around me. Very often we tend to confuse that with “I feel” but as soon as I get into that I have started interpreting what I have seen or heard. How often have we not heard things like “you looked nervous”? Have you ever thought about what nervous looks like?

My advice therefore when you want to find out a bit more about a decision, whether it is about selection or something else, ask the two golden questions:

– “What did you see that caused you to make that decision?”

– “What did you hear that caused you to make that decision?”

Based on those answers you then have a chance to improve and/or change. Another interesting way of doing this I found in a basketball team where the management team had agreed, with the players, that the selected players would get the call from the manager. The non selected ones would get it from the coach. So when the phone rang and the coach was at the other end, the decision had already been delivered. All the coach needed to do was to explain why.

 If it had been easy though, anybody could have done it… Selections for Walker Cup and Home Internationals will be posted on the relevant web sites shortly.

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