Num­bers count and ball con­trol is the dif­fer­ence

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - COMMENT - DERMOT GILLEECE

GOLF, we’re in­formed, is a game es­sen­tially about scor­ing, as cap­tured in the pop­u­lar phrase ‘it’s not how, but how many’. And we can see this con­cept com­ing sharply into fo­cus for three young Ir­ish­men in the Euro­pean Qual­i­fy­ing School on Spain’s north-eastern ter­rain of Tar­rag­ona.

This is when club­house pats on the back from sup­port­ive friends and col­leagues are re­placed by en­vi­ous stares from pres­surised ri­vals, hop­ing your next ar­row-straight drive ends in a deep divot. Robin Daw­son, Gavin Moyni­han and Cor­mac Sharvin should be buoyed, how­ever, by a won­der­ful Ir­ish tra­di­tion in string­ing stroke-play rounds to­gether.

I’m re­minded of a let­ter from Billy Fe­herty, David’s fa­ther, in late Jan­uary 2001 in the wake of Mark Cal­cavec­chia’s record-break­ing ag­gre­gate of 256 — 28 un­der par — in the Phoenix Open. He won­dered if his son’s 1989 scor­ing blitz mer­ited a men­tion in the con­text of such an ex­ploit. And it did.

Hav­ing en­gaged Bob Tor­rance to re-model his swing, Fe­herty shot rounds of 65, 64, 68, 65 around Lis­burn for a win­ning 26-un­der-par ag­gre­gate of 262 in the Ul­ster Pro­fes­sional Cham­pi­onship. Which prompted him to re­mark: “If I wasn’t a tour pro, I think I’d be­come a gen­tle­man of leisure.” In a way, that’s what he be­came some years later in the CBS com­men­tary booth.

In the event, Fe­herty fell short of the record ag­gre­gate here for 72 holes, de­liv­ered by Des Smyth in the fi­nal stag­ing of the Ir­ish Dun­lop Tour­na­ment on the old course at Head­fort in June 1980. With rounds of 65, 67, 65, 64 for 261, Smyth was 27 un­der par and 16 strokes clear of sec­ond-placed Peter Townsend, a 33-year-old for­mer Ryder Cup player.

My first golf as­sign­ment was a Mon­day morn­ing play-off for the Ir­ish Hospi­tal Sweeps Tour­na­ment at Wood­brook in 1960, when Him­self carded a course-record 63 in beat­ing Ken Bous­field by eight strokes. How­ever, O’Con­nor’s low­est ag­gre­gate was 264 (68, 67, 67, 62) at Ban­gor, when cap­tur­ing the 1962 Ir­ish Pro­fes­sional Cham­pi­onship. Philip Wal­ton later com­piled 266 (-14) for this event at Cas­tle in 1989 and Niall Kear­ney had the same ag­gre­gate at Dun­dalk in 2015.

O’Con­nor would ruth­lessly keep his foot pressed to the floor in pur­suit of suc­cess, as could be seen in a run of 16 sub-70 tour­na­ment rounds at Shan­don Park, in an aver­age of 67.12 strokes per round. Smyth dis­played sim­i­lar re­solve at Head­fort.

It hap­pened in the mid­dle week of an amaz­ing three-week run which be­gan for him in the Newcastle Brown “900” at Northum­ber­land GC on June 5. By hol­ing a 45-foot putt on the 72nd green three days later, he won by a stroke from no less a fig­ure than Greg Norman, in a share of sec­ond place. Then came Head­fort, to be fol­lowed by the Greater Manch­ester Open start­ing at Wilm­slow GC on June 19.

Brim­ful of con­fi­dence, Smyth closed with rounds of 69 and 66 to tie Brian Waites. He then went on to gain the de­ci­sive break­through when a sandwedge stopped inches from the pin for a win­ning birdie-three on the sixth play­off hole. With this, he had com­pleted a thrilling jour­ney of 222 holes in 47 un­der par.

“I don’t re­mem­ber the in­di­vid­ual rounds at Head­fort,” was his remarkable ad­mis­sion last week, “only the to­tal and Townsend be­ing 16 strokes back. It’s hard to ex­plain, but be­ing young and hun­gry for suc­cess, I sup­pose I was afraid I’d give up the lead, so I kept go­ing for ev­ery­thing. Mind you, I was on a streak and putting re­ally well at the time, with my con­fi­dence lev­els sky-high.”

He went on: “For the Ir­ish guys in Spain, it’s all about num­bers. They’ll be con­scious of that. And to achieve con­sis­tent num­bers as a tour­na­ment pro, I dis­cov­ered that I couldn’t sur­vive sim­ply on a good short-game. I had to get my per­for­mance lev­els up which meant hit­ting more fair­ways and greens. And when I shot 71 or 72 I knew I was off the pace.

“In reg­u­lar vis­its to the East of Ire­land (at Bal­tray), I have peo­ple telling me about guys play­ing off plus-3 and plus-4 and I’m think­ing they must be good. But when I ac­tu­ally see them, they can’t hit a fair­way. Tour­na­ment golf is about ball con­trol and th­ese guys were un­be­liev­ably way­ward. I’m think­ing their hand­i­caps must be earned on very easy cour­ses.”

He con­tin­ued: “I’ll take you back to Colin Mont­gomerie, a guy who never impressed me on the range. He just didn’t seem to bother un­til he got to the first tee. Then, all of a sud­den, you saw Daniel Dart in op­er­a­tion. First drive goes down the left half of the fair­way and fin­ishes in the mid­dle, and he’d re­peat that on all 14 driv­ing holes. And his iron shots were im­pec­ca­ble. That’s why he won the Or­der of Merit eight times.

“Was he se­ri­ously im­pres­sive? Not re­ally, but he was a pro who knew ex­actly what he was do­ing with the ball. Later, there was the tremen­dous de­sire you saw in Pádraig Har­ring­ton. Talk to Pádraig to­day and he hasn’t much sym­pa­thy for guys who cry about bad breaks.

“His motto is go out there and do the work. Which is what I did. On real­is­ing I didn’t have the talent that oth­ers had, I de­cided the only way I was go­ing to make it was through hard work and de­ter­mi­na­tion.

“You could de­scribe me as a mini-Har­ring­ton, though I never got to the heady heights that he reached.”

Tra­di­tion can be a great teacher, yet you won­der how many of to­day’s young Ir­ish play­ers are aware of their glo­ri­ous past. How many of them could imag­ine Harry Brad­shaw be­ing 33 un­der for 10 com­pet­i­tive rounds on Ir­ish cour­ses in 1945, for a stroke aver­age of 68.7?

The first to raise scor­ing here to new lev­els, how­ever, was Jimmy Bruen. Much has been writ­ten about his in­ter­na­tional ex­ploits as a teenager in the 1930s, but when lim­ited to do­mes­tic com­pe­ti­tion by World War II, his achieve­ments re­mained hugely im­pres­sive.

For in­stance, when play­ing off plus-4 as a 21-year-old in 1941, his 15 com­pet­i­tive medal rounds at Cork GC con­tained a 64, 66, four 68s and six 69s. And his scores for 17 win­ter rounds from Oc­to­ber 1943 to April 1944 were: 71, 66, 70, 68, 69, 65, 67, 70, 65, 69, 65, 70, 73, 65, 69, 73, 67. Truly amaz­ing, es­pe­cially when con­sid­er­ing the equip­ment of the day.

Fi­nally, here’s an­other thought the Ir­ish trio might con­sider over the com­ing days. On his Qual­i­fy­ing School de­but in 1998, Justin Rose crashed to a sixth round of 80 and missed out on a card by nine strokes. To­day, he is world num­ber one.

Play­ers warm up on the putting green ahead of the first day of play at the fi­nal stage of the Euro­pean Tour Qual­i­fy­ing Schools yes­ter­day

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