Lesser lights and locals the real winners

 

The new format for the World Cup of Golf did not alter the status quo, Tiger still won. It did, however, provide some headaches for those in charge of selecting the competing teams. December is the time when most touring golfers would prefer to do anything but play golf. The $3 million purse sustained the flagging players through what should have been their holiday period.

Some had even gone to the effort of qualifying in Jamaica back in October. The last place of $15,000 a man was more than many players had earned in one week in their careers. Paraguay's Esteban Isasi was one such player. Grateful to be in the event thanks to Carlos Franco's prowess on the world stage and a bizarre sequence of events which led to his selection as Franco's partner, ecstatic was the only way to describe his reaction to their third place finish and a $150,000 each.

The original partner for Franco developed a sore back, the next in line got disqualified for a rule infringement in another event which meant he was out. Carlos resisted the pleas of his brothers to be included in the side and chose Isasi as a last resort.

The French team were sent with a special envoy in Michel Besancenney as chairman of that nation's PGA. Jean Van de Velde felt that he should be allowed pick the side as he was the reason the French were in the event in the first place. Thomas Levet was the next in line according to the French selection system. Jean wanted Rafael Jacquelin as a partner and said he wouldn't play if he didn't get his way.

He didn't but he did play (with a protruding bottom lip) and Besancenney was acting as peacekeeper, at hand to keep the French team apart when necessary and united on the course. Needless to say they didn't finish in the final shake-up. The president's diplomatic efforts resulted in no on-course fracas. It does seem that interest in team golf to today's professional is limited to the Ryder Cup, and even that's at a stretch.

The event started under the guise of an expectant Argentinian crowd. This was the biggest show in Argentinian golf history. Larger than life billboards with the local representatives Angel Cabrera and Eduardo Romero beaming out from the roadside highlighted the pressure they were under to perform on home soil. Chino Fernandez and Roberto di Vincenzo were to be seen gleaming from posters further from the course.

Chino was commentating for TV, he wasn't included in the side despite giving the younger players a thrashing in the national open a few weeks previously. He had adopted the role of unofficial ambassador as he stood at the back of the range welcoming players and caddies he had not seen since his days in Europe.

The Argentinian crowd were taking full advantage of the early arrival of some of the players. When their favourites arrived on the range they were cheered heartily. Jose Maria Olazabal received a deafening applause on his arrival, he smiled shyly in response. When Tiger and the local boys arrived for divot duty the mob were little short of hysterical.

The New Zealand team were given the opportunity to witness both ends of the playing spectrum. They were paired with the last-placed Venezuelan team on the first day, the winning American team the last day and the home team for the other two rounds.

The atmosphere created by the home supporters has never been matched by any other event that I have been at. Presidents Cup, Open Championships or Masters were all tame in comparison to the passion the Argentinians displayed. When Romero chipped in on the ninth hole on Friday the roar from the crowd was loud enough to blow an eardrum. Any time a chip or putt looked like going in from then on I anticipated it by covering my ears.

Such was the crowd's enthusiasm that it took Romero and Cabrera to nip a football type chant in the bud. This rare chance of patriotism on the golf course was not going to be missed by the adoring Argentinians.

The politicians were looking chirpy at the course for the grand finale of the World Cup. Unlike the caddies they had obviously not been resident at the Hotel Republica. In keeping with political rankings, the past and current presidents were keeping a high profile. Carlos Menem, the past president, was strategically placed on the first tee sending the players off on their final jaunt.

The president, Fernando de la Rua, was dressed in a suit and tie more in keeping with his status. He could have presented himself in full presidential pageantry as he took his position at the trophy presentation, he was still going to receive a hostile reception at this elitist gathering. The cream of Buenos Aires society booed de la Rua as he arrived at the 18th green. Things were obviously easier for the country club set when the "cabaret singer" was in power.

Diplomatic jostlings were the order of the World Cup week from French emissaries to former Argentinian presidents while the best diplomat of them all hoisted the trophy.