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Major overload

Last time when I wrote about it being a Major week my good friend whose name happens to be Major commented that every week is. As I look to this week and the PGA Championship I almost feel like he is right. Another Major is on the door step!

Last week the WGC at Akron, Ohio, was played and even I feel like I can’t keep up with all the golf that is being played. And I have to say that it feels like all events end up in a bit of a mud where yes, the keen golfers follow and are interested in who is winning but few will remember Adam Scott’s great win last week for that long. I wonder if even the Majors nowadays have the same historic strength where the Champions will live forever? Four of them in a year is quite many, no matter how special they are. And in the women’s game they felt the best way forward was to add one more!

Perhaps five Majors in a year proves to be successful and maybe I don’t know what I am talking about. I just feel that we could help ourselves a bit more by getting more focused. In the amateur game this is more than true. When the calendar was re-arranged a couple of years ago I am afraid things went from bad to worse. Many top amateurs in Europe choose to go to the US to study at college. Because of this most tournament organisers wish to have their event in the window when players come back for the summer. And boy have they succeeded! From May until now there is not a gap to be found. Players are wasted by early July if not before and when they come into the Home Internationals this week one can only hope that there can be some ignition from the team and excitement of the format that will get them to rise to the occasion.

And in fact, quite a few of our players chose not to play last week to be fresh for this week. It was just unfortunate that week had to be the one of the European Championships! Another Major week that is…

Twittering away

Event though I am not on it (yet…), I have to say that Twitter is an interesting medium. Yesterday and the day before there was an intense discussion between Ian Poulter and some of his one million or so followers. Ian had made comments about the, in his eyes, poor scoring at the English Amateur at Woburn. Of course many of the replies came from young, English Amateurs who had all sorts of things to say about how difficult the pins were and how Ian’s own scoring lately has not been that impressive either.

I think there is two things to learn from this discussion;
i) Isn’t it quite amazing that you can get in direct contact with Ian Poulter like this and get his views on various things? I know I sound like I am 150 years old and remember the days when trying to get the phone number to somebody not in the phone book was a task just not possible to accomplish and hence we all lived in our little silos where the super stars were never to meet the real world. At the touch of a button now Poulter is there and many more with him. Many of these guys are frequent Twitterers.
ii) The fact that Ian has a view on the scoring at the English is brilliant. And as he wasn’t just sitting in his Florida home following the scores on the internet – he was actually at Woburn, for two days! – he knows what he is talking about. I have a feeling also that somebody with Ian’s resume knows one or two things about tucked in pins and slopey putts. When Ian says it is not good enough it is most probably not good enoguh – YET. There is the key word. Yet means there is a direction and a movement towards. The guys in this field that realise that what they do at the moment might win them trophies at the level they are at, but that if they want bigger things, they are simply not good enough – yet – they are the ones that will take in the words from Ian, find the right advice, work on their weaknessess and come away stronger than ever before. Because reality is that in today’s golf it does not really matter if the pins are tucked in or not. Somebody will still make those birdies. And I think that is what Ian Twittered about!

Another week

The Open Championship has come and gone and by now even the last spectators should have left Royal St George’s. Apparently those that chose to use the high speed service from St Pancras found themselves in a bit of a line trying to walk back to the station on the weekend. Given the infrastructure at the Open venues though I am still amazed by how the R&A can manage to pull the Championship off in the fashion that they do.

One week on from the Open the European Tour has now moved on to Stockholm and the Nordea Masters. As I arrive at Bro Hof just outside Stockholm I am impressed by the attraction that golf has on the public. From a tournament that everybody wanted to get into at St George’s, the field in Stockholm is not even full. 151 players, including amateurs, compete around the lovely lake side Stadium Course at Bro Hof and the crowds – come out! Two americans headline the field, both in the top 20 in the World – Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson – but I have a feeling that the Swedes most of all come out to watch their own. Last year Richard Johnson won and despite rain and flooding the tournament was a great success.

For a few years now there has been talk about how the Scandinavian Masters (even though it is now the Nordea Masters) would (again) become one of the biggest events on the calendar of the European Tour. This usually equates to more prize money, better dates, better course and better everything. I think the course now is as good as a course can get and when it comes to the rest – my advice would be to leave it. Make this Swedish, ‘lagom’ and special. Lagom means ‘just about enough to go around’ and probably only exists in the Swedish language. Special means to utilise all the positives of the Swedish summer. The Swedes already do that well in tennis in Bastad. Year after year that is voted the best tournament by the players. And that is not because of the prize fund!

What you didn’t see…

An English Amateur is in a tie for the lead at the Open Championship at Royal St George’s. Tom Lewis completed a fabulous first round late on Thursday to share the overnight lead with slightly more experienced Tomas Bjorn from Denmark. It is easy to say that Tom’s performance today is another sign of the great success of English young players recently. Of course it is, and at the same time it is a reminder of the kind of stubbornness and determination that it takes to reach these kind of heights. I think it is fair to say that Tom has not been everybody’s favourite in the amateur game this year. He declined to represent England against Spain in early May. He opted out of the English Amateur Strokeplay for the Brabazon Trophy and with the Open qualifier around the corner he chose not to be a part of the English Team in the European Championships. Would he have been in the position he is in tonight if he had not made all those difficult decisions? I think everybody with any knowledge of performance golf would say a unanimous – no way! The amateur schedule is just to exhaustive and had Tom chosen to be in that European Team he would have come back from Portugal, completely worn out, on Sunday night. To then get back on the road for the Open on Monday morning would not have been the best preparation.

At the end of a day like this though it is easy to argue that everyone has won. Tom’s performance is great, obviously for himself but also for the English Golf Union and everyone who is involved in supporting young players to climb the player pathway. Perhaps one of the biggest problems is that there are not many players around with the kind of integrity that Tom has shown. And those that are will not be very popular. Not until they have done what Tom has done that is. Ironic in many ways, isn’t it?

Finally, you just have to love the Open Championship. I cannot think of one other sporting event in the world of this magnitude where you would drive in on something that normally would not qualify as a bicycle track. Those that carry a green car park pass and come in through Deal know what I am talking about. Magic!

The wake up call

On reflection one could say that my previous post this week was a way to create a self fulfilling prophecy. On the other hand it could be said that the results in the European Championships this week have confirmed something we have long feared for. Young, brave European countries are running away. This year there is not one Great Britain and Ireland team in the competition for medals in the men’s and boys’ events and instead the hard work of other nations is paying dividends.

Peter McEvoy, the legendary English Amateur used to say that you don’t become a better putter by eating a banana. True, but reality nowadays is that you need to be on top of the latest nutrition advice, stick to your fitness regime and develop a short game at least like Phil Mickelson’s. If you can also hit the next door county and still keep it on the fairway that helps tremendously. To reach this standard no doubt quite an impressive work ethic is required. For as long as I can remember coaches have discussed how to get the players to understand what it takes to really get to the top. Some players seem to get it earlier than others and some are lost forever. Most know that talent is not enough. A lot fewer show they actually understand what this means.

England have a disastrous week to reflect on. Things are seldom as good as they seem when you win and never as bad as you think when you loose. But I do know that if we are to compete with the rest of the World in years to come, we have a culture to shift!

The changing landscape of European Golf

Last night I was on the phone for about an hour with a journalist from the Wall Street Journal. He wasn’t interested in my forecast on the European financial crisis but he is doing a piece on the changing landscape of the World of Golf and how different countries work to support their young and promising players. Obviously much of this has come from the observation that non Americans now hold all the top places of the World Rankings.

One of the things I told him was how different it now is to go to a European Championships compared to when I first went in the mid 90’s. Back then European golf was dominated by the British Isles with countries like Sweden and Spain challenging. Now, any country that hope to get into the top flight to compete for the medals will need to bring their A-game and accept strong opposition from just about any country in the field. As the European Men’s Championship gets underway in Algarve this is more obvious than ever. And the same applies to the Boys’ Championship in Prague. Today is D-day in terms of qualifying and the top 8 will spend the rest of the week competing for the top spot. The others will find themselves in an equally challenging competition to avoid relegation. Follow the action through the links on http://www.englishgolfunion.org/.

Stand out from the crowd

In one of the episodes of The Apprentice the groups are tasked with creating a free, advertising funded, magazine. While one group goes for the over 65’s in an effort to replace the old with the new hip (and come up with the very catchy name ‘Hip Replacement’) way of life that today’s much more active pensioners are after, the other group decides to create a Lad’s Mag. The latter includes all those things that ‘lads’ are into. A bit of business, a feature on ‘blowing your load’ (read ‘spending your money’) and of course – girls. With their first edition fresh from thee printers the group turn to the lined up media advertising agencies to sell their Lad’s Mag. This is not proving quite as successful as they had hoped, at least not at first. In fact one of the potential buyers says the magazine made him feel like he had been thrown back to the 90’s again. His reasoning is simply that none of the companies looking for advertising through his agency are interested in being connected with lightly dressed girls (anymore).

As I read Ashley Crain’s column on Golfweek.com I wonder if this an experience that might hit the LPGA Tour and possibly other women’s sports soon? That is if it hasn’t already. Judging by the comments Ashley has had this is a hot topic. And there isn’t just guys in the one corner of the ring. As so often before the trick with leading the market is getting there first. I do not think that was what the men in badminton did when they tried to pursue the idea of women having to play in a skirt. Luckily they backtracked. So the question now is – what comes next?


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