Mark Townsend: How Justin Rose and I continue to make great inroads
IT was idyllic, wasn’t it? Justin Rose closing out the gold medal in Rio with a near-perfect pitch shot to beat the Open champion Henrik Stenson. The silver lining for the Swede being just that, a medal to show the grandkids when the strong 3-wood et al have been put out to stud.
The way people talk about the Olympics, and golf’s uncertain future in it, Rose is the ideal champion to now adopt a Miss World role and take golf into the favelas and slums of India and help ‘grow the game’.
He doesn’t go more than a day without shaving, always, always says the right thing, is passionate about his own sport, humble about the other sports and won’t even celebrate properly before extending a polite handshake and pat of the back. Whatever he’s doing he ‘gets it’. He’s seamless.
Which, and this is a terrible and self-absorbed thing to admit, got me to thinking about myself – and the striking similarities between the two of us.
Justin and I have got a bit of previous. I once sat on the same table at a dinner in 2012 and, just weeks later, we re-locked horns over the phone for a Ryder Cup interview, a golden summer where our paths were seemingly intertwined at every turn. He was being driven up to the Open Championship at Lytham while I was sat in a muscle top in my lounge, the meeting of minds briefly interrupted by my wife hoovering and me having to shoo her out the door.
Fast forward four years and our Thursday August 11 were eerily similar. Justin holed-in-one on the opening day of golf’s return to the Olympics and I played a work colleague in our Summer Matchplay over six holes at Moor Allerton. Five holes in we were level, my opponent one of those 28-handicappers who could just as easily produce gross pars as quadruple bogeys. When it was the former I would be outraged, when it was the latter I would think nothing of it. I was giving a shot, it was a par 560-yard 5 and it was the strangest hole I have ever been part of..
Me: Anxious driver but left half of fairway. You’re alright, enjoy the walk.
Opponent: A 4-iron pulled but fine, annoyingly. Second shot is pushed into a copse of trees, all being well his swing will be hampered. Better still he might not find it.
Me: To the front of the green it is 300 yards, to go through the fairway it is 210. Don’t go left or right. It takes everything in me to go with the 6-iron which is so timid and left it deserved to be lost, a mirror image of the drive but he gives it the thumbs-up.
I can’t hold a single thought in my head and my breathing has become irregular.
Opponent: He has a shot to chip out which gently crushes me but, I keep telling myself, this is where his shot will be wasted.
Me: In the light rough, perfect, and 160 to the pin and into quite a stiff breeze. The 7 won’t get there, it’s too gusty. Hit the 7. It doesn’t get there. I’m in sand and mentally concede the match.
Opponent: He has around 110 and fats it halfway into a huge pond. This is magic. We then walk round in circles as I try to explain what his options are while, in truth, I spend all my time trying to calculate the likelihood of him making a Nett 7.
He then goes back to the scene of his crime and shanks it. And then pulls it left of the green. He has now played seven shots.
Me: I watch all this with my mind doing mental somersaults as to how I can still lose the hole. Should I thin this OOB I would probably be toast.
I thin it within three inches of the stakes and under the perimeter fence.
I need a ruling and find myself behaving and talking erratically in the pro shop. I am told to play it as it lies. I return to the green and putt it six feet sideways.
It’s downhill with five yards of rough to negotiate and if the Odyssey X-Act Tank chipper hadn’t recently been brought out I would still be there. I ‘chip’ it to six feet, above the hole, and very three-puttable.
Opponent: He comes up short and we spend at least three minutes trying to fathom out his score. Having done nothing else for the past quarter of an hour I am certain he has made 10 Nett 9. He disagreed.
Me: The putt runs four feet past. We discuss again his score. Digging right into the very soul of my being I hole it, dead centre. We dissect the hole again, I win.