Three winners with their own brand of different
Just when you thought the clones were taking over the multi-talented mavericks give the individual heroic status
Matt Kuchar celebrates on the 18th green on his way to victory in the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. Photograph: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
It seems to be a good time for the idiosyncratic golfer in the United States. We have just enjoyed a festival of the individual on the PGA Tour and on the Champions Tour in the past two weeks.
He carved his golf ball through the thinned out pines of the ice-storm-altered course in the Masters two weeks ago in a manner that defies the conventional touring professional. If you want to see the high-tech modern golf ball hit in a shapely manner, stand behind Watson as he launches his round missile in trajectories and curves beyond most in today’s game.
The only time most golfers put any real shape on the ball is when there is a howling wind and they usually cannot control it. Bubba obviously sees a course through a creative eye. When the final round field was battling to leave mid to long irons in to the 13th, Watson caressed a wedge in to the par five.
As one experienced veteran explained to mesmerised spectators about what Watson does with the ball through the air, he explained that he creates different angles with his set-up and the plane of his swing that enable him to put such power and shape on the ball.
So just when you thought the clones were taking over a game that can often suffer from paralysis by analysis, especially if you watch too much of it on television with an ever-ready swing specialist, a super high-speed camera and plenty of idle time to break down the swing, bring on the multi-talented mavericks who seemingly defy the specialists but ultimately give the individual heroic status.
The veteran Miguel Angel Jimenez, who charmed all with his top-10 finish in the Masters, then jumped in his Mercedes and headed west for his maiden appearance on the Champions Tour in Sugarloaf outside Atlanta, Georgia.
With the exuberance of a man much younger and a fascinating interpretation of a pre-round warm-up with his stretching routine assisted by a fat Cuban cigar, he fits quite appropriately in to the over-50s tour.
Fifty does not sound as old and as near the end today as it did 50 years ago, but nobody brings fresh attitude to the seniors tour quite like the Andalucian with his own brand of “different”.
Up and down the empty cart paths Jimenez drove his buggy through the ridiculously large surrounding mansions on the Sugarloaf course, wondering where all the atmosphere had gone on his short drive along the I-20 from Augusta the previous week.
The tees were forward and he only had to play three rounds on greens that must have seemed like treacle compared to Augusta’s primed putting surfaces. But victory can fill the empty spaces a seeming anti-climax like your first Champions events creates on the back of one of the most atmospheric events of the year at the unique Augusta National.
With his flat, unconventional action, the Spaniard impresses the average spectator and the most knowledgeable golfer. How does he compete at the highest level with such an esoteric swing? Talent, tenacity and an unflappable belief in how and what to do on the course.
Then last week’s Heritage event at a sodden Hilton Head in South Carolina offered yet another distinctive golfer, smiley head himself, Matt Kuchar. Having let a few events slip from his grasp in recent weeks, some were suggesting he was making plenty of money but not winning anything. Well he won in Harbour Town last week and my boss Ernie Els and I had the pleasure of playing with him for the first two rounds.
Some people can look laid back and in reality are all pent up anxiety. Others may look intense and uptight and are – and then there is Kuchar who looks all smiley and then somnolent and that is pretty much how he is. But he is a wonderfully individualistic golfer, who will not feature in the textbook manual on how to swing a golf club but he understands his swing and his game with a devastating effect on the rest of the field.
Up close on the narrow tree-lined Harbour Town course Kuchar looked like he was in total control of his ball and emotions.
When the eventual play-halting wind and rain hit us on Friday, it seemed to derail overnight leader Kuchar with four bogeys in the first six holes.
His demeanour never changed and when we came back to finish our second round the next morning he just got back to the birdie and par business.
If golf is simply a game of confidence Matt Kuchar is a personification of that theory. He is a man riding high on his natural talent and understanding of his game and the way to make it work for him. In the two days we played with him I never once saw him swing hard at the ball.
Bring on the individuals and if you want to get golf haters to appreciate the magical nature of this extraordinary game get them to observe the finest exponents of the way to play with their own personal stamp and cock a snoop at the textbook clones who are effective but less intriguing.