01 Dec 2013
In the nineteen sixties the most familiar Australian golfers were Peter Thomson and Kel Nagle. Both went about their business with a stoic calm born of a command of what they were doing and they won big championships all over the world. Outwardly they were modest men who understood their golf scores were not the most important things in then world. ‘Whether I shoot 73 or 74 is of little consequence when you consider the casualties in Vietnam’ Thomson once noted.
Before Thomson and Nagle came the small and feisty Norman Von Nida. In contrast he battled authority and conformity but he loved the Australian game and mentored Thomson as a young man and many others who came after.
The next real superstar after Thomson was Greg Norman.
He was quite the opposite character. Drama followed him everywhere. He lined fairways six and seven people deep, hit incredible shots and he also won big events all over the world.
He famously lost them too especially over the steep red clay hills in Augusta. The unanswerable question is how many championships he would have won if Thomson had played the last three holes for him. Can there be any doubt Thomson was calmer under the pressure than the Queenslander and calm was surely the one missing ingredient.
Adam Scott our best player since Norman is perhaps a mix of Thomson and Norman. He has lost two big championships now to a combination of final holes stumbles and brave birdie putts by his challengers.
At the British Open last year he made an utter mess of the final four holes and it only took that fifteen footer at the last by Ernie Els to steel away the Claret Jug.
At Royal Sydney on Sunday he played the final four holes with great surety from tee to green, something he had conspicuously failed to do at Lytham, but he couldn’t nail the ten footers at the 16th (where he three putted from the front) or the 17th greens when either would have sewn up the Stonehaven Cup.
His final approach, probably with too much club, slipped off the bank at the back of the green and far down then hill leaving him with an up and down he was unlikely to make. McIlroy sensing his chance to finally win something this year ripped a perfect wedge fives paces short of the hole but importantly leaving a straight uphill putt for the birdie.
Scott did make the almost mandatory five and McIlroy with his final putt of the season – at least in a serious tournament – rolled it right in the middle of the cup.
Scott as his is way took the loss with grace and he will steel off into the night with the knowledge he has made the summer of golf in Australia. For a month he has signed autographs, spoken at dinners arranged in his honour, had hundreds if not thousands of photographs taken with green jacketed arm around adoring fans and all the way he was shooting even 67s.
What is more impressive is he looked like he enjoyed every step of the four-week journey through Queensland, down to Melbourne and then up to Sydney. Nothing was a problem or a drama. He never once looked like he was doing us a favour by being here when he could have been sunning himself in Bermuda.
Australians have always loved the selp-depricating and modest sportsman.
Scott is a throwback to the generation of Thomson and Nagle and he surely will win a lot more.