UNLESS you possess the same instinctive, romantic flair as Casanova, Romeo, or, er, Alan Titchmarsh, then St Valentine’s Day can be something of an excruciating palaver for the bumbling male masses. I thought, for instance, that the erogenous zones were a series of countries on the UK government’s coronavirus quarantine list.
Lumbered with this pitiful sense of amorous adventure, then, my sweeping, lovey-dovey gesture on Sunday night involved settling in to watch the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am …
SPIETH STILL A WORK IN PROGRESS
The grand slam-winning Bobby Jones once said of championship golf that it was “something like a cage. First you are expected to get into it and then you are expected to stay there. But of course, nobody can stay there.”
Jordan Spieth can probably relate to that. Having won the Masters and US Open in 2015, while coming within a shot of the play-off at that year’s Open, Spieth’s Open win in 2017 would be his last victory anywhere.
Watching him post a share of fourth and a tie for third over the last couple of weeks – his first back-to-back top-10s since May 2019 – has made for captivating, at times chaotic, viewing.
Listening to him, meanwhile, remains fascinating as he chunters, cajoles, coaxes and compels his ball to do this, that and the other as it drifts through the air. Spieth’s meaty conversations with that little dimpled sphere make the Frost and Nixon interviews look like a quick blether at the bus stop. His presence at the sharp end again is great to see.
Spieth, who led by two heading into the closing round at Pebble Beach, finished behind eventual winner, Daniel Berger, who pulled an eagle out of the bag on the 18th to finish with a flourish.
It was the kind of decisive execution under pressure and big shot in a big moment that Spieth has yet to rediscover. His own shot into the 14th, which effectively scuppered his hopes, underlined those fragilities; a humming, hawing approach from 120 yards which came up woefully short and led to a crippling bogey.
Calum Hill’s Saudi International placing was impressive but much more to come from top Scot, says coach Burns
Remember when Spieth won that engrossing Open of 2017? On a frenzied final day, there were missed putts here, nervy wobbles there and tee-shots going everywhere before he conjured that astonishing late blitz over the last few holes.
In the last couple of years, of course, those missed putts, nervy wobbles and wayward tee-shots have led to a major malaise, not major moments. Spieth is still just 27. As he rightly pointed out recently, plenty of golfers just start winning at 27, even later, and go on to have bountiful success.
Spieth has always been judged on those thrilling, youthful conquests which propelled him into the pantheon of greats. Any stint in the doldrums will be magnified.
Spieth has confronted his slump with honesty, heart and hard work. Will he scale the giddy heights again? That’s in the lap of the golfing gods. But it will be entertaining watching him try. As Casanova said, presumably after his own barren spell, “the sweetest pleasures are those which are hardest to be won.”
DISTANCE DEVICES WHIP UP OLD DEBATE
There’s a lot of faffing about in golf as instinct and judgement get sacrificed on the altar of visual aids and accoutrements while players examine a yardage like Quincy peering meticulously at a corpse.
The news, therefore, that the PGA of America will allow Distance Measuring Devices (DMDs) in its 2021 events, including the PGA Championship, has rekindled old grouses and grumblings.
While the party line has always been that DMDs will help speed up play, I tend to stick by my initial, and stubborn, view of said devices after an exhausting episode at the 2012 Scottish Boys’ Championship.
A young lad walked up to his ball, trudged over to a marker, went back to his ball, consulted his strokesaver, guddled about for his DMD and began analysing his target in the kind of attentive, curious way that Bill Oddie would perhaps examine the nesting habits of a Great Crested Grebe from a distant bush.
Having taken the reading, the device was tucked away and the yardage book was pored over again amid more pacing out and pondering. And the end result of this plethora of plootering? That’s right, an iron straight into the bunker.
We will watch the world’s best with interest.
WHAT NOW FOR LADIES SCOTTISH OPEN?
The loss of Aberdeen Standard Investments (ASI) as the long-term sponsor of the Ladies Scottish Open was a particular blow just as the Ladies European Tour announced a record-breaking schedule of £16.5 million for 2021.
Muriel Thomson reflects on golf, life and charity
The event is still on the schedule, the week before the AIG Women’s Open at Carnoustie, but with a TBC next to the venue. In recent years, ASI’s vision led to the men’s and women’s Scottish Opens being staged at the same course a couple of weeks apart. It was an admirable, inclusive approach but one, logistically, which limited where the events could actually be held.
Since 2008, the Ladies Scottish Open has grown from a limited Pro-Am to a full-field, LPGA co-sanctioned event worth over £1 million. Losing its major backer, at a time of grisly financial forecasts everywhere, is a sobering sign of the times.