Colin Byrne: Golfing bug bites quick and deep and is not averse to snaring the odd president

My boss Ernie Els gave it his best shot in last week’s The Barclays but the high-class field failed to come back to us

US president Barack Obama watches his putt on the first green during a round of golf at the Farm Neck Golf Club in Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts.

US president Barack Obama watches his putt on the first green during a round of golf at the Farm Neck Golf Club in Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts.

Thu, Aug 28, 2014, 12:00

It may well be holiday season in America, with temperatures rising on the north east coast, but it is not a good time to be seen on the golf course unless it is solely how you make your living. The president of the United States is currently getting a lot of grief about what may be seen as a golfing obsession.

Barack Obama was conveniently captured on camera with his latest game improvement gismo, the brainchild of an Irish technology company, a couple of weeks ago, which was a timely promotion opportunity for them.

The problem was that he was still on Farm Neck Golf Club in Martha’s Vineyard when the horrific images of a captured American journalist in his final moments before his execution were shown around the world.

Barack took a few solemn moments to convey heartfelt condolences to the victim’s family. But it is seemingly tough to get a tee time on Martha’s Vineyard during vacation time so the solemnity was kept to a minimum and the president managed to make his lunchtime fourball.

The game has always attracted obsessive types. I watched Vijay Singh grinding away on the putting green at the Ridgewood Country Club last Sunday after he had completed his final round that morning.

Had he no home to go to after a long week of intense competition in New Jersey? Surely it was time for a little deserved recreation.

I am frequently asked how long these hugely talented golfers spend honing their unique swings and the answer of hours on end tends to be a shock to my inquisitors given that they already have spent at least an hour warming up on the range, followed by a five-hour round.

It would appear that the 44th president is working on leaving his legacy on the golf course rather than in the Oval office.

Of course it is the commitment or obsession that has made a golfer such as Singh as successful as he is but at what point do you start to look like a golf junkie rather than an accomplished golfer who realises that there may be more to life than squeezing your skills dry in the fourth decade of your career.

Player’s life

We were playing in The Barclays event in Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, New Jersey. The first of the four Play-off events that can seriously change a player’s life, with a $10 million bonus on offer for the one who excels in this four-week period.

I know there is a pretty good argument condoning the over-indulgent behaviour of golfers, but with such a pot of gold waiting at the end of a hot spell of golf, maybe a little extra work is advisable.

It is the time of year to reach peak performance and of course that is the intention of the Play-Off series in order to get the golfing public’s attention in the form of TV ratings. If you wanted to script the drama of the denouement to The Barclays you would have been hard-pressed to surpass what actually happened.

My own boss, Ernie Els, had a late surge in his final round, finishing with two birdies to post the leading score in the clubhouse. His round of 66 was not the lowest round of the day. When you are in the thick of the final showdown in a tournament, it is difficult to know really what is going on in terms of winning the event.

We walked off the 18th, Ernie having holed a 12-foot birdie putt, thinking that there was an outside chance of a play-off. As we reached the scorers’ room, I was told to hang on to my caddie bib, the play-off holes were 18 and 17 in that order and we would leave from in front of the 18th green. Obviously we were not the only ones who thought 11 under had a chance of being in a play-off.

Ernie made a special request that I could join him in the strictly ‘players only’ lounge.

Was granted

His wish was granted and I joined him in watching our fate unfold on the giant screen in the cool and calm lounge. Our realistic expectation of the rest of the field coming back to us quickly looked like it was not going to happen. Those ahead of us were there for a reason; they were hitting their approach shots close and holing putts.

The course looked like it might have dried out a little to make it tricky getting close to the pins on the last day but the back nine greens still stayed remarkably receptive. Thus the 65s and 66s in the lowest scoring day of the tournament.

When Stuart Appleby shot 65 for a 12-under total, I packed up the bag, already replenished with extra balls for the play-off, and headed out. Of course Appleby’s 65 was not even enough, with Hunter Mahan shooting his own 65 for a two-shot victory.

Some weeks the field can go backwards at the line and the clubhouse leader has an advantage. Not so at the established Tillinghast-designed Ridgewood, where a birdie-blitz finish endorsed the relatively newly established Play-Off season and vilified those who can see the advantage of what may be viewed as obsessive practice routines.

Only if you play the game for a living of course, otherwise as Obama is finding out, you may easily appear as a fixated crackpot who has been bitten late by the magnetic game of golf and its perfectionist lure.

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