'The club had too much bend, I tried hitting it with my trousers'
Last year I came away from two days at Q School convinced that James Heath’s time was now. We all like to think we can spot a player and anyone who has watched Heath strike a golf ball will likely say the same. It’s pretty much stating the bleeding obvious.
I had spent two days watching him amass 13 birdies, hit some of the best shots I have ever witnessed – including a birdie from the face of a fairway bunker 175 yards out – but, more than anything, the swing, the whole move through the ball, was on a different level.
His playing partners on those two days looked like they might need a couple of shots a side to compete with him.
Fast forward six months and our hero has pocketed a little under than £4,000 from eight starts which included seven blank weekends. The only Sunday where he has played any tournament golf finished with an 81 in Morocco. His Lumine playing partners are streets ahead of him on the Race to Dubai.
Golf, as we are constantly reminded, is hard and golf on paper is a million miles from the reality of it all. Heath would be the first to admit that his game hasn’t been there, but what you won’t find on the tour website is that he has just become a dad for the second time, he’s moved house, he’s changed manufacturers in the off-season and he’s had his clubs stolen.
Nothing earth shattering in the grand scheme of things but when you’re not playing regularly, those eight starts came in six months, and you’ve already been to Australia, Oman, Qatar, South Africa, Spain, Morocco and Sicily in 2018 then things become a little trickier.
It’s worth remembering that only two players on the 2017 Race to Dubai from last year’s Q School kept their cards – Eddie Pepperell and Edoardo Molinari – and Ashley Chesters did it from the Access List.
This is probably an age thing but Heath might be one of maybe three players who really gets my juices going. Back in the 80s I could probably reel off a dozen players without any thought who could be capable of reducing me to tears should they ever win. Now, being a little world weary and old enough to know better, I enjoy things for what they are and that’s that.
But Heath, like a small handful of his peers, is like a breath of fresh air. Things to really enjoy: He doesn’t do Twitter, he has his flaws and talks about them – Heath has played in one Open, at Troon two years ago, and his last shot on the range was a shanked 9-iron he cheerfully recalled – and he has a cracking sense of humour.
He dreams about golf, but not about lifting the Claret Jug but more along the lines of having to DQ himself for putting with a belly putter or chipping to a green made of concrete.
Or this, which might be the funniest text I have ever received. I say that very casually, like we exchange texts all the time, we don’t. But it’s still a cracker: “Last night. 11th hole (somewhere!), playing well…. dog leg right… Couldn’t hit the tee shot…. ref’s waiting, TV cameras, club had too much bend… I tried hitting it with my trousers…”
And so began a downward spiral of behaviour unbecoming of a 47-year-old – and it was bloody marvellous.
Friday was spent refreshing the scores until I could finally relax in the knowledge that Heath could make a 10 at the last and still go through – he didn’t, he finished 2nd to qualify for the knockout stages.
And so to Saturday and a nine-hole match against Scott Vincent. Never heard of him. Heath birdies the last two to win by one and my three children, who are under my care as my wife is working, are beginning to be paid a little less attention.
Next up, Scott Fernandez. Again, no idea, so should be straightforward enough. Oh god, he’s two down with one to play.
And then this happened…
Take a bow, James Heath!
— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) May 19, 2018
It was good news for my offspring as I burst into life, blowing up and filling a paddling pool with my new-found brilliant mood. But I then became even more distracted as Robert Karlsson was next up.
Does anyone else struggle with Sky Go? With the pool party in full swing and none of them being over four years of age my options are limited in terms of watching an actual television. So in the next 20 minutes I make five failed attempts to install Sky’s quick-and-easy platform before it finally shudders into life and Karlsson goes one up going down the last.
It’s now tea time and I’m furiously chopping broccoli, juggling jacket potatoes, Peppa Pig is off to meet the Queen (again), and an 18-month-old girl is craning her neck to watch the events from Antwerp on my laptop.
The potatoes are too hot so I fill time, hilariously inhaling helium from some recent party balloons, which buys me time to watch one play-off hole before, finally, some relative silence which is broken when I break into a strange little dance with a sand save at the next.
Heath’s mate, a mutual friend, texts to say he and his brother are off on the first Eurostar to cheer him on against Nicolas Colsaerts.
And then Sunday happened and it was, financially at least, the best Sunday Heath has ever enjoyed with just shy of £44,000 going into his satchel.
Colsaerts went the same way as the others and only a closing birdie by Benjamin Hebert knocked Heath out. Our hero drove the 7th and then flushed a 5-iron to 25 feet at the next at a hole where others weren’t getting up but in the end it wasn’t to be.
And now he’s playing the BMW PGA Championship this week, the first Rolex Series event of 2018 with a sensational pot of £5.2 million. The 35-year-old, despite growing up in Surrey, has never been eligible to play at Wentworth.
We’ve been here before, with Heath and thousands of others, with trite comments along the lines of ‘the start of things to come blah blah blah’. So for now let’s just enjoy the moment and wish him some sweet, and less odd, dreams.