Worth the sweat to shoot Seve

 

People rarely appreciate the physical side of golf photography. For instance, at the British Open Championship, we start work at 7.0 in the morning and finish at 9.0 at night, having carried cameras weighing up to 30 kilos over hilly terrain that can be wet, windswept and generally weather-beaten.

This year at Birkdale, for instance, my big camera was actually blown off my shoulder on the Friday evening. A gust of wind hit me so hard and I just wasn't ready for it. Our stuff is heavier than a tournament golf bag and very hard on the shoulders.

But I love the game, so I don't mind the odd bit of hardship. There are huge compensations, like going out on a beautiful morning, or late in the evening, which are the times when the light is best.

As a keen golfer - I now play off five - I really enjoy photographing courses and in that regard I can think of two really memorable occasions. One was in Scotland, when I woke up at about 5.0 on an October morning. It was pitch dark but I knew from the weather-forecast the previous night that it was going to be a really clear morning.

I was staying in St Andrews at the time and had been told about a golf course called Cruden Bay, north of Aberdeen. So, on the spur of the moment, I jumped into my car and drove for two hours to see the most spectacular, clear sunrise on the most spectacular golf course. I was the only person out there, and it was breathtaking.

The other occasion was last January, when I was photographing the President's Putter at Rye. The place is normally bleak as hell at that time of year: frost, snow - everybody's seen the classic, seasonal pictures of golfers playing in those conditions.

But this was different. I was in a tee-shirt and got the most spectacular set of pictures of Lowry-like figures out on the links at 3.0 in the afternoon. Absolutely gorgeous. These are thrilling occasions for me away from tournament photography.

Where action is concerned, there have been equally marvellous moments. Like the time I ran like a scalded cat down the 13th at Augusta National. I had been behind Seve (Ballesteros) when he played his second shot and I recognised the old body motion: he had sliced it and the chances were it was in Rae's Creek.

Now Rae's Creek is a good hunting ground for us but at Augusta you're not allowed to run. This time, I paid no notice and from behind me I heard a Pinkerton guard barking "No running, sir". But I kept going, cameras and all, because I had a sneaking feeling that there might be a special shot in the offing.

If someone was going to play out of the Creek, Seve was my man. Anyway, I crossed the 14th fairway and up behind the grandstand where there was a so-called designated photographer's area. And, sure enough, there was Seve on the other side of the Creek taking his shoes and socks off.

Using a telephoto lens with a high-speed camera, I got this fantastic picture of him playing a shot - the ball coming up and water flying everywhere. Everything was perfect, including the light. Dripping with sweat from all my exertions, I couldn't have been happier.

Then there were moments that I would describe as spine-chilling in their dramatic content. Like the 18th green at St Andrews in 1984, when Seve holed his winning putt in the Open. After his initial jig and punching the air, he just stood there and the cheering seemed to go on for an eternity.

Another happened at Birkdale last July when Justin Rose pitched in at the 72nd. That was absolutely astonishing. I was photographing him with no idea how good the shot was, but I was aware of a building crescendo from the crowd as the ball headed inexorably towards the hole, before popping in.

My feeling was that Tiger Woods was going to win, though I sort of knew he hadn't done enough, even when he sank that tramliner on the last. So I decided to wait for Rose, just in case he did something. I still shiver at the thought of that earth-shattering roar which carried him all of 90 yards until he picked the ball out of the hole.

Unforgettable.