A couple of weeks ago I played at Beaverbrook, a terrific new private golf course in the Surrey Hills. My playing partner was Ryan Fox, the New Zealand tour pro who is so long that I’m sure some people travel less distance on their holidays. The 15th is a 510-yard par-five of which the first half is distinctly uphill. Ryan hit driver/pitching-wedge to a foot for an eagle. And we lost the hole. Our host, Ian Todd, hit a good drive (we were playing off tees about 40 yards forward) and an even better second shot, a 3-wood that finished eight feet past the cup. When he rolled the putt home, the shot he was getting off Ryan turned his eagle into an albatross. None us could ever recall losing a hole after making an eagle. (I know, I know: I haven’t made many eagles for this to be much of a factor for me.)
The fourth member of our group was Chris Moody, the former European Tour pro who won the 1988 European Masters/Swiss Open – he beat Seve Ballesteros and Ian Woosnam by a shot. During the course of our round, he recalled being drawn to play with Jack Nicklaus in the third round of the 1983 Open at Royal Birkdale, to where the championship will return this July. It was quite entertaining.
To resort to a euphemism, Chris said he was slightly nervous at the prospect. Standing on the first tee, he was aware that the massed ranks of photographers swarming around the fairway ahead were not there to take pictures of him; he was just caught up in the mess that in those days was trying to play golf with the Golden Bear. In fact, things were so bad that he asked his caddie: “Keith, where’s my ball?” to which Keith replied: “In your hand.” Moody then hit driver/3-iron and birdied the hole!
The 14th at Birkdale is a par-three. Chris had the honour. He hit a good-looking 5-iron that was dead on line but he couldn’t see it land because the sun was shining brightly in their faces. He expected to hear some applause from the crowd but didn’t get any reaction. As he then told it: “At which point Jack Nicklaus, the greatest golfer who ever played the game, turned to Keith, the hairdresser from Hove, and asked: ‘Did you see where that finished, Keith’?” Keith looked towards the green and after a few moments said: “Yes. It’s about 25 feet past the flag.” Jack then changed his club selection and hit a shot that also looked all over the flag. Again this earned no response from the spectators. As the group walked towards the hole they could see that both balls were in fact on the green but short, not long: Moody 25 feet away, Nicklaus 40 feet shy. Jack turned to Chris’s caddie and said with some sarcasm: “Nice call, Keith.” But they both then holed their putts, so Keith’s cock-up had not been too calamitous.
But absolutely no applause for two balls on the green? They’re evidently a tough crowd in Southport.
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