Date: December 06, 2010

Ogilvy reigns supreme

By John Huggan In Geoff Ogilvy, Australia has a new national Open champion to be proud of. While he necessarily spends a large portion of his calendar year resident in Del Mar, California, from the kangaroo-leather grips on his clubs, via the red-and-black markings on his golf balls (a tribute to his perennially ineffectual, yet beloved footie team, St. Kilda), the 33-year old Melburnian remains a true Aussie from the top of his baseball cap to the tip of his soft-spikes. Ogilvy is also a most thoughtful representative for a generation of professional golfers reared on modern club-and-ball technology that has, depending who you talk to, either dumbed-down the game at the highest level, or made it, by the routine production of ever-longer and straighter drives, more exciting than ever before. Throughout that argument one that shows no sign of ending any time soon – the 2006 US Open champion has shown himself to be a most erudite and eloquent proponent of the former point of view. He is, in so many ways, a throwback to a former, golden age of golf. Two important aspects of golf have gone in completely the wrong direction, he maintains. Most things are fine. Greens are generally better, for example. But the whole point of golf has been lost. Ben Hogan said it best. His thing was that you don t measure a good drive by how far it goes; you analyse its quality by its position relative to the next target. That doesn’t exist in golf any more. Ask what is the most enjoyable aspect of the game that has earned him well over $22m on America s PGA Tour alone and Ogilvy will tell you that it is the subtle shaping of shots using out-dated balata balls and old-fashioned persimmon woods. For him, such sessions are almost spiritual in nature and a soothing contrast to the increasingly Neanderthal crash-bang-wallop quality of the golf he is forced to endure while at work. It is a whole new level of fun, he says. Using a wooden driver, you have to hit it well for the ball to go anywhere. The difference between a good hit and a bad one is about 40 yards. With a modern driver you can hit the ball anywhere on the face really. The difference is only about five yards. Only afterwards, when I think about it more, do I get depressed by all of that. Though trapped by the constraints of 21st century science, Ogilvy remains forever the golfing equivalent of a renaissance man. On the eve of this year s Open Championship at St. Andrews it s a safe bet he was the only member of the elite field who played nine holes with hickory-shafted clubs and balls designed to perform like those of a century ago. The most fun I ve had on any course this year, he smiles. Which is perhaps not that surprising. Until now, 2010 had not been a year Ogilvy will recall with much professional pleasure. Yes, he won on the PGA Tour successfully defending the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Hawaii but for the most part it has been a time of competitive frustration. By way of example, halfway cuts were uncharacteristically missed at both the US Open and the Open Championship. For such an avowed traditionalist, not playing over the weekend at the latter was especially painful. St. Andrews is the best course in the world because of the shots it makes you play, he insists. In our increasingly black and white game, the Old Course is a million shades of grey. Stand on a tee there and you have choices to make about where to hit your drive. That s a huge contrast with any course covered in long rough, where any decision has already been made for you. It’s hit it here you re good, hit it there you re bad. Which is stupid. So, quite apart from being one of the most accomplished and stylish players on the planet, Australia s new champion is just the sort of wise, high profile spokesman the professional game needs if it is to rescue itself from the technological black hole into which it seems to be headed. Keep listening to him everyone.