I was looking over the first round leaderboard for this week’s European Tour event, the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth Club, in Surrey, England. This tournament is a big deal. At €4.5 million ($6.4 million), it has the biggest purse on the Tour. There was even a little flutter on Twitter last night that Wentworth should be considered on a par with The Players Championship on the U.S. Tour.
So you would expect the best out of the best players on the European Tour because you know that they’re all going to be there.
And sure enough, World No.2, Luke Donald shot a sizzling 64 on a cold, damp day to take the lead by 2 over teen phenom, Matteo Manassero. Ian Poulter, last week’s winner at the Volvo Match Play Championship remained hot and is tucked in T5. Darren Clarke also did well at T9 (as did a surprising Colin Montgomerie who was fired by his caddie on Monday for Francesco Molinari’s bag—wasn’t Montgomerie supposed to be done?).
But you’ve got No.1, Lee Westwood, 8 shots back at T38 with No. 9, Paul Casey (and No. 818 John Daly). No. 3, Martin Kaymer has been a little bit off the boil, but it was a little surprising to see him 10 back at T53 with Retief Goosen. And guess what? T53 is right on the cut line.
And then you get to the guys 11 back and one over the cut line: Justin Rose, Ernie Els (who lives on the course), Francesco Molinari (and his new caddie), Ross Fisher and Graeme McDowell, (the current U.S Open Champion).
At 12 back are: Louis Oosthuzen (the British Open Champion), Miguel Angel Jimenez and the next best thing since sliced bread, Rory McIlroy.
Nicolas Colsaerts who had a nice semi-final finish at Volvo and Charl Schwartzel, the Masters winner, are hopelessly out of it.
How does this happen? Granted it was in wet and windy conditions, but Luke Donald managed to shoot 7-under in those same conditions. There’s nothing wrong with their swings, they’ve all been hot lately and over time. That’s why we know their names.
It’s the fragility of the game and the reason the USGA rules that we must include only the top 10 scores of our last 20 in our handicap calculations: they expect half of our rounds not to be reflective of our true golf skills. The game is played by human beings on real golf courses and not on some video game console that you can pretty quickly learn how to, well, game.
But you can’t learn how to game real golf. Real golf is mystical, mysterious, superstition-inducing, but most of all, it’s fragile. You can get really, really good at it over time, it’s the reason we love to watch the pros. But even they have off days, miss key putts they have to make and have long stretches in the doldrums. Selected for no other reason than his longevity and his greatness, 20-win star and our next Ryder Cup Captain, Davis Love III, has missed 5 of 11 cuts on the PGA Tour this year. And 9 of 24 last year. And he’ll probably end up in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
And so the lesson in this for us is to be patient with our games and not be swept up in our disappointment with a bad shot or round or stretch. And most of all, not to hold our Tour pro professionals to impossible standards of performance either. Even Tiger, with his Tour record of 142 cuts made over 7 years, apart from his injuries and personal problems, finds himself lost in space now.
And that’s what makes the game so fascinating. If it wasn’t, our clubs would all be in the closet with our checkerboards. It’s the only game truly worthy of us human beings. It demands everything of us, the physical, the intellectual, the psychological, the spiritual. Played at its best, it demands a high level of soft, enraptured awareness, patience and persistence.
So when we see our heroes fall on their faces as some did in the first round at Wentworth, we have to remember that it’s not necessarily all the player. It’s the game and its fragility.
That’s also the reason that virtually all players who know the game well, regard it as a perfect metaphor for life itself.