Date: November 19, 2018
Author: Mike Clayton

CLAYTON: The caravan rolls on

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The most depressing day in professional golf is one a touring pro never sees. It’s the morning after it’s all over and the show has moved on.

After a year, and sometimes more, of anticipation the circus finally rolls into town on Monday morning to a course preened within an inch of its life. Both grounds staff and membership wait to show off their course and hope it meets with the approval of the players.

Many hope the scores aren’t so low because of the perception low rounds show up a weakness in their course, but great players shoot low scores every week unless the dimensions of the course are distorted in an often egocentric attempt to have a score around par win a championship.

Most often that is something left only to the arrangers of the US Open.

Peter Thomson thought even 68s was a fair enough winning score and something the best player of the week ought to be able to accomplish with sensible straight hitting, good irons, competent putting and powerful enough hitting to reach a couple of the par-fives each day.

The tournament week begins with practice rounds then a pro-am and ends with the climax of the Sunday night finish. The players then head to the airport, their next appointment and the next round of anticipation, both theirs and a whole new lot of members.

The quotes from winner’s press conference fill in the gaps for the reporters writing up the highlights of the day’s play. He visits the sponsor’s marquees and then the maintenance shed to thank the workers who have spent the week getting up at three in the morning to cut the greens and rake the bunkers.

There are occasionally members who lament the disruption of tournaments but the course they play in the weeks leading up to — and after — the event is always better for the extra work. For the staff, it’s something to work towards and the end result justifies all those long hours doing often-mundane tasks in all sorts of miserable weather.

Not so long after the winning putt goes in and the trophy is presented the dismantlers come in to pull apart the stands, the signs, the television towers and tents.  The anticipation has come and gone and the members wonder when it will return.

The venues for the next five Opens are already determined (three at The Australian and one each at Kingston Heath and Victoria) but The Lakes’ time will come again. It’s been an important part of the tournament scene in this country all the way back to the 1930s and the matches against the famous American players including Paul Runyan, Harry Cooper, Craig Wood, Leo Diegel and Ky Laffoon.

It was back when players wore ties with white business shirts and the best Australians were eager to play in front of home crowds. Some no doubt would even have seen it as a responsibility.

This week it’s the turn the members at Metropolitan to embrace the professional troupe. The World Cup cast is much different but a few from The Lakes will be in Melbourne. Matt Kuchar, he of the disappointing Sydney weekend, plays for America with Kyle Stanley. Cameron Smith quietly just made it into the top 10 at The Lakes and he will be better for the tune-up. Teaming Adam Scott with Marc Leishman might have made for a more glamorous pairing but Smith is a wonderful player and hardly the spare wheel in the partnership. You can put your house on Smith playing well in Melbourne.

The Mexican Abraham Ancer, the winner in Sydney, exactly matched Thomson’s measure of even 68s and his 65 in Saturday’s high winds was as good a round as a man can play. Presumably the Melbourne spectators will now be more curious about the pro from a golfing country where their best player to this point has been the brilliant LPGA star Lorena Ochoa.

This is Metropolitan’s week to shine and the players will very quickly come to the realisation this is the best conditioned course they have come upon all year. At least the best-conditioned course without the benefit of an unlimited budget.

Only Augusta National isn’t bound by such pesky financial restrictions.

As a Metropolitan member I have seen how hard the staff have worked to get the course in the condition the members can be doubly proud of and weeks ago I suggested to a few guys in the grounds staff they could relax because it was already at a level only dreamt of by most.

It will be a fun week. The format of team play is a break from the monotony of week-to-week 72 holes of medal play and we get to see many players from all over the world we otherwise wouldn’t.

And next Monday it’ll all be over and it will be Royal Melbourne’s turn 12 months from now at the Presidents Cup.

It never ends.