I think we can be agreed that the biggest sport in the UK is football. But footballers are pretty keen on golf. You will doubtless have seen the story last November of Gareth Bale posing with his Welsh international teammates and displaying a banner which read: ‘Wales. Golf. Madrid. In That Order’. Word has it that did not go down too well in the Spanish capital, where Bale is employed by Real Madrid. Word also has it that his love of good-weather golf was one reason why Bale did not move back to Tottenham Hotspur last month.
In the space of four days last month, I clocked the following three stories in the newspapers. There was one about Harry Kane, who plays for Spurs, the club where Bale used to be. A company called Golf Tech Systems had installed a simulator at Harry’s home. Another Harry, Mr Maguire, who plays for Manchester United, revealed that in order to maintain a happy state of mental health he likes to play golf. Elsewhere, Pep Guardiola, manager of Manchester City, insisted he would never cross town to coach their rivals. “I’d be in the Maldives if I didn’t have any [other] offers,” he said. “Well, maybe not the Maldives, because it doesn’t have any golf courses.” This is in fact not strictly true – there is an academy and short course designed by José Maria Olazábal on Velaa Private Island, but I think we can get where he’s coming from.
One other thing. A pet statistical grievance of mine is when someone lists the names of the men golfers who have won the Grand Slam (the Masters, USPGA Championship, US Open and the Open), which will certainly happen again before the Masters because win at Augusta and Rory McIlroy will join their number. Invariably, the listing will go something like Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Gene Sarazen and Tiger Woods. (I have done that one alphabetically.) All too often the list will omit Bobby Jones, who completed the original Grand Slam in 1930 – the Open and Amateur Championships of Britain and the United States. Without that accomplishment of Jones’s, the concept would not exist, yet he is overlooked at least as frequently as he’s included.
I guess this has to be because he was an amateur, given that Sarazen was a contemporary of his, so it’s not a question of no one caring about what happened before the Second World War. But something like that always happens regarding football. Ask who is the all-time goal scorer in English football and the answer will inevitably come back: “Alan Shearer, with 260 goals in the Premier League.” Which began in 1992. Football was played before then, Shearer himself scoring 23 times in what used to be called Division One. So that’s 283 in total for Alan. But Jimmy Greaves, who played for Tottenham as well as Chelsea and West Ham, scored 357 times – 74 more than Shearer. In 43 fewer matches, now I come to mention it.
Greaves, who will turn 80 on Thursday, also played golf, although unlike for Kane, indoor simulators were not available when he was a player. Some player, too.
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