Date: November 19, 2013
Author: Peter Stone /

Stone: The World Cup runneth over

Imitation, it s said, is the sincerest forms of flattery so, with that in mind, permit me to borrow a theme from a great friend whose company I thoroughly enjoyed over a drop of the deadener the late Peter Dobereiner. Dobers had a sharp edge of humor in his fine writing on the greatest game of all, no doubt honed in his days alone, save for the sheep he tended as a shepherd in his early working years and well before he put pen to paper or fingers to a typewriter as golf correspondent for Britain s Guardian newspaper. It must be said, though, he wasn t adverse to a shepherd s pie when we came across a pub in our travels. But, first, let s give you just a gem from the Dobereiner archives of golf writing before we get to this week s World Cup of Golf at Royal Melbourne and my recollection of his preview as a guest columnist for the Melbourne Age. Of Nick Faldo, he wrote: (Faldo is) a loner to the point of standoffishness, consumed by ambition, arrogant, self-centred and obsessively driven by the impossible dream of technical perfection. With Faldo, he was spot on. He consumed himself – and his achievements – with no regard for those who wrote of his golfing prowess that included three British Open and three Masters victories, but when he joined the Fourth Estate as a TV commentator it became all bonhomie towards those he previously scorned. Dobereiner wrote in The Age back in 1972 when the World Cup returned to Royal Melbourne for the first time since Peter Thomson and Kel Nagle triumphed there in 1959 with a 10 shot win over the Americans Sam Snead and Cary Middlecoff with South Africans Gary Player and Harold Henning a further stroke back. It was the awakening of golf for Australia. I was a teenager at the time but it was front-page news and Thomson and Nagle were the quiet heroes of there, until then, unrecognized sport. Sadly, there have been similar bleak times since save for when we ve had a major champion and maybe there is a case for a dedicated golfer to form a Golfers Party to run for the Senate on the platform for more recognition and financial support. If the Australian Sports Party and a (four-wheel drive) Motorists Party can succeed in winning seats, effective from June next year, in the August election surely the one million-plus golfers could gain a voice in Canberra as well. Dobereiner came for the 1972 World Cup and, from memory, his opening paragraph was: Sand has always had a bad press. He wrote of the sands of time running out, throwing sand to the wind and it blowing back in one s face, quick sand and more, plus the absolute terror the less than average golfer has on entering a bunker in medal play and not stableford where it s just a wipe on the card rather than a Bo (10 that is) or a Legs (11). No such bad press, though, for Royal Melbourne that is the jewel in the Melbourne sandbelt of a dozen or so championship courses within a five- kilometre radius of each other. The RM composite layout 12 holes on the west course and six from the east course in the adjoining paddock has long been regarded as one of the classic links courses in the world. It is short by modern standards and the fairways are expansive. The bunkering is exquisite and the examination for any golfer is not to short side one s self and to keep the ball under the hole. At the 1988 Bicentennial Classic, Jack Nicklaus played Royal Melbourne for the first time. He d just completed a practice round and was in the members bar lying on the floor doing back exercises when I asked what he thought of the course. It’s a good member s course, he replied, before elaborating. Well, you can imagine the hurt those members felt. There was the greatest golfer who ever lived describing their pride and joy as a good member s course. Such was the outcry that Nicklaus, on return to the US, wrote the club committee a letter explaining his remarks. Yes, there was not a lot to the tee shots, but it was the second shots that were demanding and that made it so testing. Permit me to brag. Those leading professionals who ve had the misfortune to partner me in a pro-am soon realised I was blessed with no ability or skill whatsoever. Stuart Ginn asked: Rock, how long have you been writing about this game? About 30 years, I replied at the time. You haven t learnt a *&^$@ thing, Ginn said. Pete Senior, on witnessing my first tee shot, asked his caddie of the time, Carlo, for a rubber to double my handicap on the card. The finest round I ve ever played was 86 around the composite course, albeit not from the back tees. The American golf writers, it must be said, knew very little about Royal Melbourne. Like most top US golfers, they didn t travel, but two years ago they came en masse for the Presidents Cup and there were rave reviews. It was their Eureka moment. But, let s go back to 1972. Bruce Crampton and Billy Dunk, the latter being chosen because head won the previous year s Australian PGA champion and, though he never did test his arm overseas, was a prolific tournament winner here at home, represented Australia. The Americans didn t send a top team. No Nicklaus, no Arnold Palmer, no Lee Trevino. It was Jim Jumbo Jamieson who had tied second behind Gary Player in that year s US PGA championship and Tom Weiskopf who was a year away from winning the British Open. Romania sent a team, but only one player turned up Paul Tomita, a quietly spoken and wonderful man who was head professional at the Diplomatic Club in Bucharest, the only course to survive the ravages of the Germans and then the Russians, even though the then dictator – the notorious Nicolae Ceauescu had reduced the course to just six holes. Dumitro Munteanu was named by Romania as the second player, but no explanation was ever forthcoming about his absence. Jokingly I asked Tomita what would happen should he win? I would be very ashamed for all the others, he replied. Taiwan s Mr Lu (Lu-Liang-huan), the man who doffed his hat continuously around Royal Birkdale to finish second to Trevino in the 1971 British Open, was here with Hsieh Min-nan, and they were the pair who emerged the winners by two shots over Japan with South Africa (with Gary Player on board) third while Australia and the US finished tied fourth. I well remember my golf-writing colleague from the Melbourne Sun Bob Crimeen asking Mr Lu, Are you married? Not this week, he replied with a broad smile. It was only a 54-hole tournament simply because the American officials who were running the show didn t know Melbourne and its weather. My lead paragraph after the second day s play was abandoned around 10am after nearly 50cm of rain between 7.30am and 9.30am left several greens underwater read: There s a saying about Melbourne weather that if you don t like it, wait for a minute and it will change. Such was the drainage at Royal Melbourne back then, and it has since been vastly increased, the course was playable by 11am and a two-tee start would have been possible to start and finish the opening day s play. Tournament director American Fred Corcoran said it would have been unfair to delay a decision whether to abandon play, as it was be unfair to spectators arriving at the course to discover there was no play. The fans did arrive, in their thousands, and had to content themselves watching Player and Englishman Guy Hunt along with a few other nondescript players hitting balls on the practice range. So, let that be a warning to those in charge of decisions this week. The drama of the 1988 World Cup player at Royal Melbourne began before a ball was struck. Greg Norman was the No 1 player in the world rankings when the Australian team was announced, but he was ineligible for selection under the PGA of Australia s criteria at the time that was the top two available players from the previous years order of merit would form the team. Norman had played just four tournaments in 1987 winning both the Open and the Masters but, to be eligible for the order of merit, a player had to play five events in the year. The Shark entered the Western Australian Open that year but did not play even though he was in the country. It’s understood WA didn t come up with his required appearance fee. PGA Australia chairman at the time, Terry Gale, and his CEO Don Johnson stood firm on the rules and withstood all manner of pressure to change the rules with Bob Hawke even entering the fray on the Shark s behalf with a stern letter to the PGA. In the previous eight years, Norman was eligible to play for Australia, but declined. In 1988, though, he was desperate to play as it was being played at RM, Australia s greatest course where he had won the Open the previous year. He won the Open the year after the World Cup as well. He had a definite affinity with the gem of the sandbelt. Then, at the opening ceremony on tournament eve where the players parade their national flag to the podium before the speechmaking there was further drama. Mackay was given permission to remain at home in Perth for the birth of one of his three children and would arrive later that evening while Senior s plane from Brisbane, via Sydney, was fogbound at Mascot and, just minutes before the ceremony was to begin, a PGA rules official decided to carry our flag. He arrived at the marshaling area to discover an Australian golf writer had decided to lay the flag on the turf unwanted – and take a photograph to sensationalise his story. Nightingale was furious, he could have wrung the poor wretch s throat, but at that moment a puffing Senior arrived on the scene to proudly carry our flag. Sadly they couldn’t win the Cup and silence the critics of the selection process but did finish third behind the American duo of Ben Crenshaw and Mark McCumber. So we come to this week. Adam Scott, the world No 2 with our PGA and Masters titles under his belt in a glorious past two weeks of golf by the Queenslander, is partnered by world No 20 Jason Day who, just at the weekend, learned eight of his relatives were killed in the recent Philippines typhoon tragedy. They ll surely do this country proud, just as Thomson and Nagle did back in 1959. These are heady days, once again, for Australian golf with Scott s achievements and so many younger players now daring to dream a little higher because of the example of Scott.