How winning became par for the course
What is most interesting about the four golfers Reid examines is not the major successes uniting them but their different expectations and routes into the pro game. McIlroy seemed destined for success from childhood. Clarke seemed similarly destined when he turned pro early, after a glittering amateur career. But although he enjoyed professional success, the weight of personal tragedy, parental responsibility and ageing meant that journalists who questioned him before the 2011 British Open – which he won so conclusively, aged 42 – never asked about his own chances. They just wanted his opinions, as an elder statesman, about the prospects of fellow Northern golfers McIlroy and McDowell.
Although Reid vividly captures each of the seven victories, it is Clarke’s success (when considered a well-loved but extinct force) and Harrington’s initial success in chasing down what was starting to resemble an impossible holy grail that most interested the present reviewer.
Harrington was shaped by his parents, especially his late father, Paddy, a garda, who encouraged his talent, at Stackstown Golf Club, but also instilled sufficient realism for his son to study accountancy before turning pro, so he would have a profession to fall back on. Not initially marked out for glory, Harrington is Ireland’s most successful golfer, not just in terms of major wins (a record likely to be eclipsed) but in terms of maximising his ability through hard work.
There again, in an era when success came to be measured by how much you could borrow from a bank, all four men exemplified a different outlook, one that involved constant effort, incessant practice and a mental toughness that allowed them, at differing stages of their careers, to leave their mark on a world stage.
Reid’s book has an occasional tendency to become more a miscellany than a narrative, with sections comparing the physical details of each trophy or listing the six best shots in major history. I would have been interested in his analysis of why, in such a short time frame, Ireland produced this array of champions, or where golf sits on the fault lines that bisect Northern Ireland and that already have McIlroy under unfair advance pressure to wrap himself in one flag or other for the Rio Olympics. I would also have liked Reid’s thoughts on Harrington’s career since his third major, to explore not only how difficult it is to scale such heights but also how a sportsman copes with the pressures success brings.
But these are not Reid’s themes. Instead, he vividly recaptures each victory and the wondrous miracle that Ireland has suddenly won more golfing majors than Eurovision Song Contests. Truly that is something to sing about.