Barnes not keen on Ballesteros

 

FROM my vantage point behind the first tee at Oak Hill two years ago, I watched a shot that was so badly executed as to be almost beyond belief. Even now, it is hard to imagine how Seve Ballesteros could hit a "safe" three wood, into such desperate trouble, straight left, in the top Ryder Cup singles match against Tom Lehman.

On his return to Spain from the US, Ballesteros took a five month break from the game. Yet, last season was to be his worst in Europe since 1974, as he sank to 69th in the Order of Merit. He had six missed cuts, including the British Open, and only two top 10 finishes in 17 events on this side of the Atlantic.

All of which has prompted Brian Barnes, the British Senior Open champion for the last two years, to suggest that the notion of Ballesteros as a playing, Ryder Cup captain next September is "the biggest joke of all." And Barnes, let it be said, has a useful Ryder Cup pedigree, having gained morning and afternoon singles victories over no less a player than Jack Nicklaus, at Laurel Valley in 1975.

The garrulous Anglo Scot added: "It seems incredible to me that a fella with Seve's record can miss greens by 20 to 25 yards with a seven iron. At my worst, I couldn't manage that." Barnes, clearly has a point, particularly on the evidence of an amazing clash at Oak Hill, where Ballesteros comfortably surpassed evens" his own renowned wildness, while losing by 4 and 3 to Lehman.

With typical resilience, however, the Spaniard is set for his 24th European season, starting with the Dimension Data tournament at Sun City, South Africa on February 13th. From there, he will play three in a row, up to Dubai, and his activities will be concentrated largely in Europe. "Seve is serious about playing in the Ryder Cup," said his manager, Roddy Carr. "With that in mind, he plans to play more tournaments than in recent years - probably 18 to 20."

In the meantime, he will be competing in only two events in the US - the Freeport McDermott Classic on April 3rd to 6th, followed by the US Masters. And the extent to which Augusta National can lift his spirits, even at the bleakest of times, is indicated by his record there in recent years.

Ballesteros, who finished 43rd of the 44 qualifiers in the Masters last year, has not missed a cut there since 1984 - when he was defending champion. In fact his only other missed cut in 20 successive appearances at Augusta National was in 1981, when, ironically, he was also defending the title.

Clearly, if that sort of motivation could be applied to the Spaniard's Ryder Cup effort, his critics would find themselves dining out on humble pie. Still, Barnes insisted: "Perhaps I should give him some advice on how to cope." Which might be fine - provided the 51 year old's new teetotal, non smoking, weight watching regime can guarantee a suitably swift escape.

In a reference to a 15 minute fainting spell when his daughter, Nan, was born, Jack Nicklaus was told by a doctor friend that he "spent more time in the recovery room than your wife." Nicklaus, who was 57 last week, also fainted after the births of his first three (of four) sons.

WHEN Waterville's David Higgins talked last week about wearing £3,600 worth of gear in the course of a season on tour, he saw himself as being very much at the lower end of the fashion scale. By way of illustration, Darren Clarke's annual clothes bill has been comfortably into five figures in recent seasons.

"Darren just happens to like clothes," said his manager, Andrew Chandler. So, it came as something of a relief to both of them this week when the Ulsterman signed a clothing contract with the Boss company.

"It is performance linked, which means that a repeat of last season's form would make it worth about $50,000," said, Chandler. Then, of course, there is the saving Clarke will, make on his normal sartorial outlay. All of which adds up to a pretty handsome deal.

IN the light of events at the a.g.m. of the Irish Ladies' Golf Union last week, I thought this might be of interest. It is a letter from Dr Sheila E Hartley of Blairlogie in Scotland in the current issue of the Women & Golf Magazine.

She wrote: "The recent decision of the male members of Drumpellier Golf Club to forgo Lottery cash rather than give their lady members equal rights, has once again brought the gender issue in golf clubs to the attention of the national press. No doubt, the fact that the ladies supported the decision, for various reasons, will have outraged the more militant lady golfers of the land. However, the issue of equal rights is not a simple one, nor will it go away.

"What do women golfers understand by equal rights? Is it representation on the main committee, a vote at the a.g.m. and, the chance of a game at the weekend, or true equality with a single class of adult member, all paying the same subscription, a single waiting list and the majority of strokeplay events open to all?

"If it is the latter, the implications must be considered. A single class of adult members means an end to quotas. You will no longer be guaranteed the 100, 250, or whatever number of lady members presently (sic) in the club constitution. A long waiting list could well mean a reduction in the number of ladies in your club, as the waiting list in most clubs is far longer for, gentlemen than for ladies.

"Consequently, every time a lady leaves, a gentleman will get in. This could go on for several years and your numbers will steadily diminish as there are more men than women wanting to play golf. With a few exceptions, such as championships and various knockout competitions, all long established, well loved trophies are suddenly open to all and will more than likely be won by a man, even if you do get the extra strokes allowed by the differences in the standard scratch scores.

"Ladies day is a thing of the past. You may get a chance to play in the weekend competition but if you're not actually there when the sheet goes up, you probably won't get a game until teatime. So, before you go rushing into demanding equality at your club, think carefully what it means for your ladies' section.

"By the way, I am fortunate that at both the clubs of which I am a member, ladies have the vote, are represented on the club management committee and I can get a game at the weekend, albeit at tea time, by ringing the professional."

IT appears that Michael Neary of Bray, a regular correspondent to this column, is having problems sleeping. (Given the absence of any electrifying disclosures here of late, the two situations are probably not linked). Anyway, in one of these insomniac states, he chanced upon a late night TV re run of Here's Lucy.

Neary writes: "To my surprise and delight it was a classic comedy in which Jimmy Demaret and a certain Bo Wininger were teaching Lucy how to play golf. Naturally, I was familiar with Demaret, but who is Wininger? Perhaps you can enlighten me."

Francis G Wininger, otherwise known as Bo, was born in Chico, California in 1922 and after an amateur career, he turned professional in 1952. He went on to win three events, including the Baton Rouge Open (1955) and was joint runner up in the Dallas Open in 1959 and 1960, before quitting the tour in 1961.

In a surprise move, however, Bo returned to action the following year and in 1963, he won the Carling Open and then captured the New Orleans Open by a three stroke margin over Tony Lema and Bob Rosburg. So, he had five tournament victories to his credit when the golfing world was saddened by news of his premature death in 1967, aged 45.

IN BRIEF: MasterCard's "Best of the Best in Golf," a poll in which I voted last autumn, determined that Bobby Jones's Grand Slam in 1930, should be acknowledged as "The Greatest Moment in Golf History" Callaway introduced the Biggest Big Bertha Titanium Driver and the Great Big Bertha Tungsten Titanium Irons at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando last weekend.

TEASER: When starting a hole, a player, in making his first stroke, just touched the ball and it fell off the tee. He picked up the ball, re-teed it and played out the hole. What is the ruling?

ANSWER: When the player made a stroke, the ball was in play. When he then lifted the ball, he was in breach of Rule 18-2a and incurred a penalty stroke. When he failed to replace the ball on the spot where it came to rest after being knocked off the tee, he incurred a penalty of loss of hole in matchplay or a total of two strokes in strokeplay.