Joy of Golf: Encounters with Arnie & the Tiger returns

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The gentleman of golf: Arnold Palmer will be sorely missed.

One of the biggest regrets I will have as a golf journalist is the fact that I was never able to interview Arnold Palmer. I have attended a couple of press conferences with The King, but a one-on-one would have certainly counted as a career highlight.

And yet, like millions of others, I too have my list of Arnie tales – brief meetings that have left everlasting impressions. The first time I saw Mr Palmer – he was a ‘Mr’ to everyone, even Presidents of United States addressed him with respect – was under the famous Oak tree of the Augusta National clubhouse.

The year was 2007, and the tradition of honorary starters was making a return at the Masters. Of course, that honour belonged to Mr Palmer. That was my first Masters, and I was excited about a million things, foremost among them was the chance to see, and possibly meet, Mr Palmer.

That opportunity came early. On Tuesday morning, I saw him sitting and talking to people under the Oak tree. The moment he got up, I pounced upon the opportunity and shook hands with the legend. Mr Palmer was 78 that year and those strong, wide shoulders had already started to droop a little.

But the one thing that I still remember is how powerful his handshake was. I am now glad I was at least able to tell him that day how much I respected him for all that he did for the sport we love. He asked me where I was from.

When I told him India, he said: “Boy! That’s some distance you travelled. Hope the Masters is worth it for you.”

That was the extent of our conversation. Short, but cherished. And yes, there was no selfie, because the trend hadn’t started back then. There was another thing I noticed as he sat there that day. His manners were impeccable.

Even at that age, and with his stature in golf, he’d try to get up whenever any lady walked up and spoke to him. I then watched him, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player play the Par 3 Contest. Those three guys, between them, had won 34 majors.

And what a show they put up. It really was an exhibition of how to interact with fans. All three of them high-fived the crowd all the way, spoke to children and handed them balls and other memorabilia, chatted with random people and indulged in exaggerated celebrations for every good shot.

Finally, on Thursday, came my other ‘I-was-there’ moment. Mr Palmer stepped on to the first tee and revived the tradition of honorary starters at the Masters with a drive. It wasn’t a very good one. But the 20-deep crowd, which had waited for more than an hour for that moment, did not care. He still received a deafening applause.

So, there you go. Whatever little I saw of him that year, simply fortified the image I had formed of him after reading or hearing all the wonderful things about him. The King will be sorely missed.

RETURN OF THE TIGER

Tiger Woods finally made his return to the golf course – albeit in a non-playing role as one of the five vice-captains named by Davis Love in America’s successful Ryder Cup campaign. By all accounts, he did a great job.

Patrick Reed was supposed to be his responsibility and the young American had a fantastic week at Hazeltine. And captain Love and others kept praising the quality of strategic inputs he was providing. But next week is his return as a player. Woods has entered the Safeway Open, the first event of the PGA Tour’s 2016-17 schedule.

Not many people know the state of Woods’ game right now, but colourful Swede Jesper Parnevik revealed he had been practicing and playing with the star at Medalist Golf Club in Florida, and he felt he saw shades of Tiger from 15 years ago.

Parnevik told Golf Digest: “We talk and have played nine holes together. By the way, he’s been hitting a lot of balls, and he’s hitting it great. He’s pounding it a mile and flushing everything. On the range, at least, his trajectory and ball flight are like the Tiger we knew 15 years ago.

Comebacks are never a sure thing, but something tells me his might be spectacular.” It’s interesting that Parnevik said that about Woods, because he was possibly the only golfer who was vocally critical of the former world No1 when his marriage with Elin Nordegren broke down.

Parnevik felt responsible because Elin met Woods while working at his place as a nanny. By the way, Parnevik also said he has become friends with Woods again and he has forgiven the 14 time major champion because he is “a very good father”, and because he is friends with Elin again.

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Rose to miss Race to Dubai event

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Out of action: Justin Rose

Olympic champion Justin Rose said Wednesday he would be taking a two-month break from golf in order to fully recover from a back injury.

“Following an intense summer schedule and discussion with my team, I have decided to take the next eight weeks off for rest and recovery,” the 36-year-old Rose, who won two points from five matches in Europe’s

Ryder Cup defeat by the United States last week, said in a statement.

His decision means the Englishman will miss next week’s British Masters, a tournament he won in 2002.

“As many of you know, during the Players Championship I experienced discomfort in my back from a disc herniation and was sidelined for the following month,” former US Open champion Rose added.

“I worked hard to be able to return for the US Open, but my ongoing tournament schedule, combined with heavy preparation for the Olympics, did not allow for full and proper recovery.

“At this point in my career, it is important to invest in my body and this time off is crucial for me to return to peak performance.

“The remainder of the year has such a great run of tournaments and I am very disappointed to have to miss out on some of them. The importance of the European Tour’s Race to Dubai and my relationship with the British Masters makes these tournaments particularly tough to miss.”

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Americans’ start & Clarke’s mistakes proved decisive

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With the benefit of hindsight, it is extremely easy to point out the faults in Captain Darren Clarke as he became the first European captain to lose the Ryder Cup in eight years.

However, three things led to the 17-11 defeat, and two of them were directly because of Clarke’s decision-making. The first, and the most important reason, was the way Americans started the tournament.

Clarke could have done nothing as his team was whitewashed 4-0 in the morning foursomes. This was supposed to be the stronger format for the Europeans, having won 7-1 two years ago at Gleneagles. But even a time-tested pairing like Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose failed to stop the hosts.

It’s always difficult to claw back from such a nightmarish start, but Clarke and his men actually did very well to come to within one point of the Americans mid-way through the second day. But it was during the Saturday fourballs that Clarke made two critical pairing mistakes.

One, he persisted with his two picks – Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer – despite the fact that both were very poor on the opening day. And secondly, he split up the successful all-Spanish pairing of Sergio Garcia and Rafael Cabrera-Bello.

From a winning position, 1-up after 16, Westwood missed a four-feet putt to halve the 17th hole and then, after hitting a stunning second shot to two feet on the 18th, he missed that putt as well which would have earned a crucial half point for his close friend Clarke.

Garcia and Cabrera-Bello had earlier stolen half a point in the Saturday morning foursomes, coming back from four-down with six holes to play. The duo worked brilliantly together and there really could not have been any valid reason to separate them.

But Clarke did, and Garcia and Kaymer lost the fourballs to Mickelson and Kuchar. Clarke’s immense faith in his wildcards Westwood and Kaymer may have backfired on him, but in his third choice, Thomas Pieters, he may have discovered a Ryder Cup legend in the making.

The Belgian, just 24 years in age, was cool as a cucumber as he went about his business in near hostile environment. He even sushed the crowd a couple of times. Of course, it helped that he was paired with McIlroy, but there were many holes in which even the multiple major champion had to depend on Pieters to bail him out.

In between all this, there was a beautiful moment that captured the essence of this tournament, and sport in general. On the eight hole on Sunday, Mcllroy was involved in a massive battle in the opening match against Patrick Reed.

The two expressive players were halving holes with one outrageous birdie after another. On the eighth, McIlroy drained a monster putt that seemed to have started from another time zone. That was when he went into the I-can’t-hear-you celebration.

Reed replied by making his birdie putt from the fringe, and then wagged his fingers at McIlroy. For a moment it felt that things might get ugly. But as Reed walked off the green, the two players hugged each other, clearly in awe of the quality of shots of the other player.

It was a beautiful moment. And it really was Ryder Cup at its best.

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