Competitive but civilised as professionals team up with amateurs at home of golf
Next step is another team event at an altogether different venue at Muirfield Village in Ohio
Caddy Colin Byrne with Ernie Els of South Africa during the final round of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on the Old Course, at St Andrews last weekend. Photograph: Photograph: Andrew Redington/Getty Images
Playing in the Dunhill Links Championship last week was probably the ideal warm-up for the Team Challenge this week in Jack Nicklaus’s domain at Muirfield Village in Ohio this week.
Not that the traditional links terrain of the Old Course at St Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns resemble anything of the type of golf that Jack’s course demands but the idea of playing for more than yourself is where the similarity lies.
The Dunhill Links is one of those rare breeds of professional events that includes amateurs for the entire tournament. It is a unique opportunity for part-timers to get in the thick of it with the pros down to the very last putt on Sunday. Hugh Grant the actor played with the eventual winner, David Howell, all the way up to the play-off after 72 holes. I heard him gasp as David holed a three-foot putt on the last to remain tied for the lead. He was nervous for his professional playing partner.
They are not the rank-and-file amateurs, they are a chosen brigade of relatives, celebrities, sportsmen, businessmen and golfing socialites who gather each year in east Fife for an event that has become a very welcome tradition on the European Tour.
Looking at the prize fund for last week’s event and the tournaments that have preceded the Dunhill I didn’t hear too much complaint from the professionals at having to play with amateurs for the week. There was an air of gratitude to be playing for such a healthy purse.
You can see how the years of experience gained by the regular amateurs has brought a maturity to their behaviour on the course around the sometimes fussy pros and likewise, the professionals loosen their belts in deference to their amateur partners. Let’s say an understanding has developed over the years between the amateurs and professionals on the links. I didn’t hear any pro complaining when an amateur suggested he finish out his putt in order to hopefully assist with a line on the greens. The atmosphere was competitive but with a very civilised air about it.
South African connection
Given the South African connection with Johan Rupert, the lifeline of the Dunhill Links Challenge, there were four of this week’s International Presidents Cup team competing. We arrived on the range at St Andrews on Saturday morning last, another mystical unseasonably warm autumn day, amid Africaans banter on the near side of the practice tee, none of which I understood but the laughter suggested this was the type of warm-up you would expect before you go out at home for a casual game with your mates. My player, Ernie Els, went out and shot 64 after his very low key warm-up session which involved more words than shots. Ernie was playing with his father Neels, who has accompanied his son on eight occasions in the pro-am event. It was easy to see Ernie was not forced into golf as a teenager by his father like quite a few younger players seem to have been. If his behaviour during last week’s event is any indication of the early days he gave passive support to his son.