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Thursday, 17 January, 2019

Customer must always come first in golf - especially one in an armchair

Charles Howell III: attempting to follow in the footsteps of a fellow 'III' in Maryland
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I love Steve Palmer’s column. It’s unique, honest, brave (or foolish, often much the same thing), sometimes worrying, human and funny. The fear that it will end disastrously for him makes it especially wonderful when he has a cracking win, the sort even Steve will have difficulty wiping out in less than a fortnight. So far he’s managed to avoid having to stake either his wife or child on the final round of an obscure golf tournament on the far side of the Atlantic. Credit where credit’s due.

Without Steve’s columns I may never have known who Michael van Gerwen was. According to Steve, Gerwen is God. It’s unusual to think of the Supreme Being as an overweight bald man who has devoted his life to throwing darts but each to their own. The Lord moves in mysterious ways his wonders to perform, although in my experience they invariably end up with you getting stuffed.

Steve would be writing about this weekend’s climax of the Quicken Loans National tournament at Potomac, Maryland. I’ve never heard of it but there’s $7.1 million on offer, possibly in the form of loans and there are some cracking names teeing up. You get much better names on the American circuit than over here. My favourites at Potomac are Smylie Kaufman, Cody Gribble and Tyrone Van Aswegen. All terrific names.

Kaufman won’t win because he’s 6ft 2ins tall, which means his brain and eyes are too far from his clubhead. Bill Haas won’t win for the same reason. Kiradech Aphibarnrat won’t win because his body’s the wrong shape. You’ll know it if you’ve seen it. Also, he won’t be there because he’s playing in the Open de France, which is in France this year. Aphibarnrat won’t win that, either. Greg Chalmers won’t win because he’s left handed. Golf’s hard enough already without playing it the wrong way round.

Second favourite Justin Thomas won’t win because his brain was scrambled by his final round at the US Open, resulting in him missing the cut at last week’s Travelers Championship. His brain may not yet have returned home.

It’s a weak field but someone’s got to win (a bit like a Brighton seller) and after not very careful consideration I’ve bet on that someone being either Patrick Reed at 14-1, Jimmy Walker at 99-1 or Charles Howell III at the same price. It’s good practice at arithmetic.

Steve seems to have a pathological aversion to laying bets off and taking a profit. Chance would be a fine thing. Hopefully by the time you read this at least one of them will have made the cut.

Howell is a serial underachiever although it’s a form of underachievement that can’t have been too painful as the 38-year- old has earned over $32m in prize-money. It must be difficult to force yourself to spend another afternoon practising bunker shots when you could be lounging on your private beach eating bespoke ice cream. I think I’d probably still opt for vanilla.

Howell is in decent form and the tournament will suit him because last year it was won by a fellow III, Billy Hurley III. Harold Varner III could be a danger. Davis Love III isn’t playing.

Golf is a great television sport, especially if you’ve got four days to spare and a comfortable armchair. Unfortunately there are several things wrong with most American golf courses. First, the bunkers are laughably easy. Getting in a bunker should be the equivalent of being hit with a left hook (or fade) in boxing – difficult to recover from. They should be deep enough for players to need help climbing out of them and penal enough to provoke a victim to break his club over his knee.

Second, the fairways are too wide and the rough not rough enough. Fairways should be narrow and the rough horrible. That’s what it’s there for. Few things are as satisfying as watching someone you don’t want to win thrashing about in the undergrowth. Third, it’s not windy enough. Golf tournaments should be played in almost unplayably windy conditions, the sort they have at Hexham. Most players don’t like it but it makes for excellent television. The customer should come first, especially the one sitting in an armchair swearing at the set on Sunday evening.

That is why the Open is better than the US Open – a particularly bland affair this year with technically skilled robots hitting the ball ridiculously far before spending five minutes considering their next over-analysed shot. It makes you hope that they’ll cock it up.

Golf is awash with jokes. My favourite is the one about Abraham’s game with Jesus. Abraham drives his ball straight down the fairway. Jesus slices his into the rough, at which point a crow flies down, picks it up, carries it to the green, drops it near the hole and the ball rolls in. Abraham turns to Jesus. “Are you going to play golf or are you just going to mess about?”

By the time Reed, Walker and Howell III are fighting it out for first place in Maryland, the Open de France will have been won – but who by? I’ve finally given up on Martin Kaymer, so he’s my selection.

I love . . .

Getting up early and walking to a coffee shop with the Racing Post. The air is crisp, the streets quiet, the birds singing and the thing you’re going to back in the 3.30 at Southwell hasn’t fallen at the last yet.

Having a good book to read. It gives you something to look forward to and means you don’t have to talk to anyone. I recommend neurosurgeon Henry Marsh’s Do No Harm. It’s very good on brains, especially ill ones.

That episode of Outnumbered where the German exchange student turns up unexpectedly.

Looking at my diary and seeing that the whole week is blank, apart from a trip to Stratford (the racecourse, not the theatre). When you’re reclusive it’s a relief.

I loathe . . .

The scourge of compulsory background music. You can’t escape from it until your own funeral. At least you don’t have to listen to it then, although I expect it’ll be de rigueur in Hell.

Betting shops where live horseraces every ten minutes aren’t considered to provide enough betting opportunities – two virtual races are squeezed in between them, plus a dog race. Horrible.

Politicians who shamelessly and shamefully avoid answering questions. It’s various adjectives, including insulting, and makes it impossible to respect them. 

Golf tournaments should be played in almost unplayably windy conditions, the sort they have at Hexham
E.W. Terms
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