Swing states: Sir Sean Connery and other tales from golf course

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November 15, 2020 2:00 AM

Champions are different from winners, and are usually defined not by their wins but how they handle failure

The Trump-owned Turnberry resort on the west coast of Scotland has been out in the cold when it comes to being considered as a venue for the Open Championship.The Trump-owned Turnberry resort on the west coast of Scotland has been out in the cold when it comes to being considered as a venue for the Open Championship.

On an overcast, cold November morning, surrounded by the biggest gallery at the event that week, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus, teed things off at the 2020 Masters Tournament in Augusta, Georgia. I tuned in, as did an unprecedented number of golf fans, to watch the live telecast of the ‘honorary start’. You couldn’t have missed the collective sigh that echoed in living rooms around the world when things got underway: in a dystopian year, fraught with global uncertainty, the Masters Tournament —that missed its date on the sporting calendar —has, defiantly, made a second coming in November.

There are so many players, especially amongst the younger lot, who dismiss golf’s traditions as an anachronism in a fast-changing game. I’ve certainly pulled no punches when it comes to needless sentimentality (especially at Augusta) but this time around, even the dreadfully saccharine piano soundtrack of The Masters, was music to my ears. Like a recalcitrant atheist reaching out to God in salvation, I appreciated the value of tradition — not as some amorphous moral ideal, but one that serves practical purposes. There are things that have endured, and will continue to endure. The Masters Tournament took place in 2020, not like clockwork, but it did, nonetheless. And the significance of that cannot be understated.

And what can you say about Nicklaus, winner of six green jackets, requesting the gallery on both sides of the fairway to clear and give him some space, ostensibly to make sure no one got in harm’s way. That, coming from a 18-time Major Champion, who, by all accounts (and if the drive he hit is any indication), still has plenty of game. That little gesture just underscored why Nicklaus, is considered a living legend of the game: not just on account of his playing record but because of the person he is, and the social values he espouses — honourable conduct, honesty, humility, sportsmanship and grace — that exemplify what golf has been about. He’s precisely the kind of player, and person, you want a young golfer to aspire to.

The world is woefully short of tall figures like that. We’ve all witnessed regrettable behaviour on the golf course. Boors who lie about strokes, surreptitiously improve their lies, break the rules, and are uncharitable towards playing partners, to name a few infringements. For people like that, another great golfer proffered some advice. In ‘Being a Scot,’ his autobiography, Sir Sean Connery wrote, “…I began to see golf as a metaphor for living, for in golf you are basically on your own, competing against yourself and always trying to do better. If you cheat, you will be the loser, because you are cheating yourself.” Tony Jacklin, the two-time Major Champion who counted Connery as a friend, narrated a touching story in a Masters podcast earlier this week.

Jacklin was apparently playing with Connery when his first wife passed away. Connery immediately escorted Jacklin off the course and went on to make all the funeral arrangements. The original 007 passed in his sleep last week, and will be remembered as a gentleman who held himself up to the highest standards —both on and off the course.

Jacklin didn’t think that European players have any tangible advantage at The Masters this year (given the colder weather conditions in November) and put it down to mental strength on the weekend. At the time this column was written, the first round is underway and I have to say that the defending champion, Tiger Woods, appears to have that focus, that glint in the eye that we’re all so familiar with. Remains to be seen how he fares on the weekend and whether there will be a reprise of last year in what is widely considered the greatest comeback, not just in golf, but all of sport.

Champions are usually defined not by their wins alone but how they handle failure. Woods’ journey from injury and layoff to being healthy, getting back on tour, winning an event, and then finally winning a Major Championship is an incredible tale that might well be the crowning glory of Woods’ glittering career.

He fell on his face a few times: at the Open last year in Carnoustie Woods had the lead but squandered it, then got beat by Brooks Koepka and others a few times. At the Masters he entered the final day two shots back and won his first Major Championship in which he was chasing the lead rather than owning it.

Tiger is special; not all men, thankfully, have that ability. On another note, the electoral loss of the sitting President of the United States might just turn out to be a gain for golf. The Trump-owned Turnberry resort on the west coast of Scotland has been out in the cold when it comes to being considered as a venue for the Open Championship. The historic layout hosted the last of its four Opens in 2009, when Stewart Cink beat the 59-year-old Tom Watson in a playoff, but it has since been overlooked, ostensibly for reasons that have nothing to do with its owner. Now though, Turnberry should be back in the mix-it’s too good a golf course not to host the Open championship. Surely its owner won’t mind: it’s a small price to pay for the good of a game that has given him so much.

Meanwhile, do tune in tonight for some more of that disgustingly sweet melody when the final round of The Masters Tournament gets underway tonight at Augusta.

A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game

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