Choking at golf is an experience everyone dreads and there isn’t a player who, at some point, hasn’t succumbed to the pressure of the prospect of winning a big event.
Doug Sanders, paralyzed by nervous tension, fumbled his was to an awful bogey at the final hole of the 1970 Open Championship at St Andrews and sentenced himself to a lifetime of memories of the blowing his best chance to validate his talent. Whilst Sanders looked pathetically nervous, Adam Scott made those four closing bogeys to hand the Open Championship trophy to Ernie Els in 2012 whilst still managing to look as calm and assured as he always does.
Choking is a very personal experience and only the player truly knows what happened when it all unraveled. Only they know the thoughts, which flooded through their minds and how their bodies, hands and swing reacted in the crisis.
It’s too easy for those on the outside to make assumptions when they really have no idea.
Scott, labeled a choker for Lytham, came nine months to the 72nd green at Augusta and made an incredible putt which, at the time, looked sure to be the winning shot. It wasn’t and in the playoff he made another long snaking putt to beat Angel Cabrera. No one could ever tag him with one of the cruelest labels in sport again.
Two weeks ago eighteen-year-old Su Oh missed a five-foot putt on the 69th green of the Victorian Open to take the lead in what was her first event as a pro. From there she looked as cool as Scott had at Lytham as she too fumbled her way to the clubhouse with three closing bogeys. I was caddying for her and a lot of things went on in the long forty-five minutes from the 16th tee to the scorer’s tent. She hit a couple of poor long shots, she probably played the wrong shot after she missed the 17th green and at the last when only a birdie would do she went for a long shot out of the trees and over a marsh, a marsh which turned out to be a marshy grave. Probably she could have pulled that long three wood approach off two or maybe three times out of ten so difficult was the shot.
I’m sure if she had chipped out on the 72nd hole, made a safe five and assured herself of second place money she would have seen that as the way of the faint hearted. There was not a chance she was going to take the accountants way out, play safe and settle for making $5000 more than she eventually did.
The very next week she flew up to the Gold Coast with her father as caddy and birdied the last four holes to win.
This week she plays her seventh Australian Open at an age when most haven’t played one. It is a much different field from the last two weeks with the number one ranked player, Lydia Ko, the headliner. Her career thus far has been extraordinary and at the end of last season she won a bonus of a million and a half dollars for her play. ‘I don’t even know how many zeros that is’ she said at the tournament dinner when someone asked what she had done with the money.
So Yeon Ryu, the 2011 US Open champion returns to the scene of the crime when in 2012 when she three putted the final green to fall into a six way tie with amongst others an 18-year-old Jessica Korda. Ryu hits more greens in regulation than almost all the rest and she well-understands the concept of the golf at Royal Melbourne. It is much different from the regular week-to-week test when the golf is about as one- dimensional as it could possibly be. You hit to where you are told by those who determine the width of the narrow fairways and you fire straight at the flag safe in the knowledge it will stop where it lands. Equity of punishment, ‘fairness’ and consistency are seen as important when all those concepts conspire to guarantee something pretty dull.
Over the Composite Course the test is to play with proper trajectory, shape and spin to one place in order to have the ball finish in another. It is a sophisticated form of the game, one not all care for, but there is no accounting for the ignorance of the critics.
Korda who won the playoff on the second extra hole, making a something of a mockery of the theory you need to experience and understand Royal Melbourne to win.
She inherited some pretty incredible genes from here two tennis playing parents and she plays with great power, a huge advantage at Royal Melbourne as it is at Augusta National.
Judy Rankin the fine LPGA player from the 1960s and 70s said recently of Korda, ‘She is the one player out there who reminds me of Mickey Wright’
Wright, the greatest ever woman player turned 80 this week and possessed a swing Ben Hogan called ‘the best he had ever seen.’ Praise doesn’t come any higher and it makes Korda worth watching.
Alister MacKenzie a master architect of Royal Melbourne built courses to reward bold play and imagination by giving players space to play and it is why championships over his courses are always worthy of observation.
The course this week shares star billing with the players. Few events can say the same and it is certainly not a place for the faint of heart.