The golf course can be a lonely place. Even with an audience of 45,000, Rory McIlroy looked a solitary figure as he hit his approach to the daunting last green of the US Open Championship last weekend. There was no cause for concern on this occasion: the memory of his collapse in the final few holes of this year’s US Masters was erased as he sent records tumbling. McIlroy is the youngest winner of the US Open since 1923 and carded the lowest ever winning total at 17 under par, setting similar records for his 36 and 54 hole aggregates.
Despite the fact that the basic aim of the game is the golfer taking on the golf course, players are rarely alone; and certainly never alone in competition. A sliced tee shot or a badly struck wedge will always bring murmurs of sympathy. Playing partners are always a source of encouragement, even if it is just a gentle reminder that there are worse things in the world than missing a six inch putt for buffer zone on the eighteenth green.
But there are times when a golfer really is alone. A shank on the Memorial would be a good place to start. It is the one shot that is followed by an unnatural hush. Playing partners look away. Golfers on other fairways stand slack-jawed in silence as though a funeral cortege has just passed by. Birds stop singing and the wind dies. A bale of tumbleweed rolls across the course. No one chips in with, “Easily done, mate”, because, of course, it is never easily done. A slice can be manufactured and a hook produced to order, but a shank is in a category all of its own.
Fortunately, those moments are rare. Equally rare, unfortunately, is the kind of moment experienced by Neil Macleod. His blind approach to the Ranol last Saturday looked good but his ball was nowhere to be seen on the green when he reached the brow of the hill. A search around the green in ever increasing circles proved fruitless and, as time drifted on, Neil had already decided not to go back to play another ball. “I can’t understand it,” he muttered. “It was right on the flag.”
“Did you look in the hole?” asked one partner. And there it was: from a dreaded No Return to an eagle in seconds. That inspired Neil to a nett 65 but, on a day when the sun shone and the wind was low, that was only good enough for eighth place in the Greenkeepers Benefit event.
Third place went to James Hood, who continued his excellent season, which has already seen him take the individual prize in both the Healthworkers Charity Trophy and Trades Cup competitions. James recovered from a triple bogey on the Dardanelles by making a birdie on the following hole and completing the inward half in 38 strokes. A quiet miracle meant that James still had a handicap of 19, and that transformed his nett score to 63.
Arthur Macintosh went one stroke better with his best performance of the year. This was a steady round, a birdie on the Ard Choille taking him to the turn only one over par. The inward half was even more consistent, with seven pars, a birdie on the Ranol and a bogey on the Foresters. The result was a gross 69 and runner up spot on the day.
The winner by a comfortable margin was Peter Grant, whose form this year had been underlined recently by third place in the handicap section of the County Championship. Last weekend, he improved on that performance with his lowest ever score. Peter managed that feat without a birdie, but ten pars on his card – seven of those in an outward half of only three over par – and a handicap of 20 to play with was the recipe for a nett total of 58.
Adam Longdon won the junior section of the competition but he was pushed all the way by George Rennie.
The ladies’ midweek medal competition was won by Jane Nicolson. A birdie on the opening hole was the catalyst for Jane’s best round of the season. Her nett 65 was five strokes better than the respectable nett 70 returned by runner up Liz Carmichael.
For the men, the midweek competition was a Centenary Medal qualifying event, run on the stableford points scoring system. Relatively calm conditions provided an incentive for good scoring and four golfers managed to rack up 38 points. Their prospects of winning were scuppered by David Black, whose 42 points came courtesy of a round of sublime golf. There were five birdies in an outward half of four under par. By contrast, his back nine was pedestrian with a solitary birdie on the Caberfeidh but a gross total of 65 (nett 62) reduced his handicap to 2 and provided a timely boost in confidence for the Island Games.
There is, however, David’s score did have a sting in its tail. The computer prediction of a Competition Scratch Score (CSS) of 37 points remained constant all evening as each score was entered and those on 38 points could look forward to a cut in handicap. David put paid to that too, by not only winning the competition but single-handedly pushing the CSS to 38 points. As a result, the only beneficiary of a handicap reduction on the day was himself. The Isle of Wight may be a good place for him to be until his popularity rating returns to normal. Having suggested that, it is worth noting that two of those whose handicaps increased thanks to David’s performance – Kevin Macrae and Andy Macdonald – will be with him at the Island Games. We wish all three and their team mate Colin Macritchie every success.