One of my career-high moments as a golf journalist was sitting in a Europcar car park in south Leeds on a Friday afternoon in May 2008. Outside it was persisting it down. I was ready to begin a riotous weekend, which would likely involve not leaving the settee, and on the phone was a two-time US Open champion.
My memory fails me as to the reason for our chat – it was possibly 10 years on from his second win – but my unbridled joy at having Lee McLeod Janzen on the blower was two-fold.
Firstly, it got me out of a scrape as I had six pages to fill in a magazine which went to print at the start of the following week, and secondly, the Minnesotan (I had to look that up) couldn’t have been more apologetic for missing my calls earlier that day.
Again, I forget why he didn’t ‘pick up’ but he couldn’t have been nicer about it.
We sat and babbled on about this and that, but mainly the US Open, for 25 minutes, a Europcar front-of-house representative giving me dirty looks for the most part, and parted as something/nothing like friends.
This has always stuck in my mind as trying (and failing) to get hold of golfers is part and parcel of my job. You might think that a 15-minute chat, with three months’ notice factored in to ‘fit in with your busy schedule’, might be do-able but, more often than not, there isn’t that amount of time in that schedule.
The most fun part of this game is to try to secure some face-to-face time at a tournament. To set the scene, a magazine journalist might tend to be at a tournament on a Tuesday in the hope of knocking off half a dozen interviews. The odd one might be nailed down with a time and venue, generally speaking a non-British player and therefore quite open to the prospect of engaging in a conversation but, quite often, the advice from a manager is to just track Player A down for a chat.
Fair enough, none of us like to be tied down and who knows what the week will throw at us in terms of the weather, travel plans and the like. Let’s keep things fluid and just get together like grown-ups.
And so the pantomime begins…
After a few laps of the practice ground, chipping area and putting green Player A comes into view, exiting stage left from the player dining area. At this point I hold the upper hand, of sorts, as he’s no idea who I am or that I’m after a slice of his particular pie.
He can see I’m approaching him but he pretends to carry on as normal which generally means looking at his phone. I make my introductions, add some dreadful small talk about the course and where he’s staying that week before landing the knockout blow that I’d like to carry on this conversation at some length – “15 minutes tops” – and, horror of horrors, have people read about him in a magazine or on a website.
At this point in the sequence I quickly go from harmless hanger-on to nuisance. The defences go up and we are quickly on the move.
Player A is now actively shuffling away from me and I am shuffling after him. His eyes are on stalks and he’s looking for assistance. But his caddie, manager, and personal trainer are nowhere to be seen. He’s stranded.
And I’m still walking with him. He starts to mumble something about “a bite to eat” but he knows that I’ve clocked him coming out of his food joint for the week and jumps ship to the old standard nine holes excuse.
We’ve now broken into some weird sort of half jog and, in a last-ditch attempt to do anything but talk to me now about his hopes for the year ahead, he makes a half-arsed promise to meet in two hours’ time.
He disappears down the 1st. Even from a distance his shoulders have noticeably dropped and he’s back in his cocoon of safety. We never do have that sit down.
My favourite moment on a golf course came in Portugal when a Ryder Cup player had the onerous task of transporting himself approximately 25 yards to be photographed hitting a maximum of five shots with a driver and then, very loosely, breaking down his own swing. So, so something he has probably talked about in depth every day for at least the past 15 years, for no more than three minutes.
“Not a problem, I’ll just hit a couple more and then head over…”
True to his word he hit a couple more before then, fairly briskly, scuttling off in the opposite direction to the safety of the locker room. Unfortunately for him, I was playing in the pro-am that afternoon so also had the keys to the castle which, in this case, was a pass to the same locker room.
Two hours later we would reconvene, both changing our shoes in a horrible, awkward silence. Not a word was exchanged in the space of two minutes before he, quite sweetly, said “Cheers then” as he got up to leave.
For some reason I then heard myself reply “Yep, cheers mate.”
This week I was at Dundonald Links for the Ladies Scottish Open and, by contrast, the women couldn’t have been more different.
There are fairly obvious differences from the two tours by just looking at the range – there is the odd coach, no managers in tweed jackets, no enormous tour vans, nobody trying to get their products in the players’ hands and it’s generally an uncluttered playing field.
But they’re doing precisely the same as the men: preparing at great lengths to get their games razor sharp for Thursday onwards but without the egos and flunkies.
And it’s lovely. Lovely in that they look you in the eye and are able to carry out a conversation and they try that bit harder to give a decent answer.
Yes, I know, the women need the publicity and so on but it’s more than that. It’s more to do with manners and the strange culture that some people have found themselves in.
Padraig Harrington likes to do a lot of things differently and he will say that he feels sorry for the journalist so he would always make himself try that bit harder with every reply. Plenty of his peers do the same but not nearly enough.
In Scotland I approached the ladies’ World No 1 So Yeon Ryu, interrupting a putting drill, to ask if she might be able to pop over when she was done. Something that wouldn’t even be possible in the men’s game for maybe the top 50 in the world. She replied that she would be an hour, she noted the time and, precisely one hour later, she came to find us.
As Gary Player likes to say, manners maketh the man – just not enough in the world of men’s golf.