Will golf ever shine at SPOTY? Don't get your hopes up
The last time a golfer won the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year was 1989. Sir Nick Faldo followed in Dai Rees’ footsteps, just 32 short years later, after coming from five back to win The Masters in a play-off with Scott Hoch.
The following year when he defended his Green Jacket at Augusta, then won The Open at St Andrews by five in one of the most ruthless displays the game has ever seen and came within a shot of playing off for the US Open he didn’t get a sniff.
The top three in 1990 were Paul Gascoigne, following his tears in Turin, Stephen Hendry, and Graham Gooch, who had a golden summer against India and, er, New Zealand at the age of 37. Fair play to all of them but it’s a pretty good reflection of what a nonsense the whole thing is.
My favourite is Geoff Hurst getting edged into third by New Zealand speedway rider Barry Briggs. The year? 1966.
When Faldo did win it he edged out Frank Bruno, who fought once in 1989, lasted just under three rounds against Mike Tyson, Harry Carpenter temporarily lost his professional cool by yelling out “Get in there, Frank” during the first round, and we all couldn’t wait to see how the BBC would reminisce about the fight which was back in February.
As it transpired Des Lynam would pull Carpenter’s leg, Bruno would join in and it was the perfect little warm and fuzzy aperitif to Christmas.
Things move on of course – the homely element of the pre-millennium now replaced by flashing lights, vast arenas, wonky sound, roaring motorbikes, Gary Lineker, and Eddie Jordan showing off on the drums.
The spirit of SPOTY died when SPOTY first entered the English language.
Yet, whether it’s down to nostalgia, either for sport or the BBC, or a genuine interest in the show, which is back in Birmingham this year should you be interested, most of us will tune in secure in the knowledge that it will generally disappoint.
Your own particular favourite sporting moment will likely whizz by in a blur but, rest assured, there should be time for Nigel Mansell to scream onto the stage in a shiny car to rapturous applause, belches of smoke, and some mutual back slapping.
If you like golf then, sadly, you’re in for an even worse evening. For the big prize, like we say, there have been just the two winners. Otherwise there have been five second places – Darren Clarke and Tony Jacklin both twice apiece and Rory McIlroy in 2014 when back-to-back majors saw him sandwiched between Lewis Hamilton and Jo Pavey.
Clarke, should he care, might consider himself a tad unfortunate in 2006 after getting pipped by Zara Phillips for her heroics on Toytown. Thirty-five years earlier her mother had received the same honour.
“For two members of the same family to win the award for the first time is very special,” Phillips said at the time, which is quite the understatement. “My mum said when she won it no one else was in the running!”
That year, 1971, George Best and Barry John filled the other spots on the podium.
Ian Woosnam and Sandy Lyle both came third, the Welshman for his four wins and Ryder Cup heroics in 1987, Lyle for his Masters victory the year after.
So, a total of nine placings in all which puts it behind athletics (51), football (20), Formula 1 (14), and tennis, boxing, cricket and swimming (all 10). Give cycling another couple of years and the 2020 Olympics and that will be next to leapfrog golf.
This year the ‘much-anticipated shortlist’ was revealed at the start of the evening. No home-based player won a major this year which is why the likes of bi-weekly World No. 1 Justin Rose and Tommy Fleetwood – were they not watching Shinnecock? – didn’t get a sniff.
Georgia Hall? Now the Women’s British Open has moved to Sky Sports it was even more unlikely than it once might have been.
I know moaning about #SPOTY contenders is like shouting at a brick wall, but Georgia Hall missing out is a national scandal and I demand heads roll.
— Alex Perry (@AlexPerryNCG) December 16, 2018
I was quietly hoping that somehow the powers-that-be would have taken note of what a big year Eddie Pepperell had but, again, I was left disappointed. Paul Waring? Richard McEvoy? No? OK.
The last ‘Brit’ to win a major was Danny Willett in 2016 and, of the long list of 16, he brought in a whopping 2,227 votes. Andy Murray raked in 247,419 for winning the same number of majors and, admittedly, a second Olympic gold but it doesn’t paint a particularly glowing picture of how golfers are viewed by the public. Rose also won gold that year, remember.
Then again, other than all of us who were watching, who cares? There seems to be a misconception that the first thing that every sportsman or woman thinks about once they have achieved their lifetime’s dream is to cast their mind ahead to some vast arena in the Midlands in the middle of December and their chances of joining Gary Lineker and Clare Balding on stage.
Check Twitter out after any performance of any substance and we are all weighing up an individual or a team’s chances of success at the BBC love-in. Like it actually matters. It’s all very strange.
But anyway, given plenty of us are still locked in an era of Lynam and Steve Rider, let’s look at golf’s other options.
Team-wise the Ryder Cup boys have fared a lot better which is probably due to the fact that everyone buys in to the Ryder Cup and also that was decided by an expert panel. The heroes of 1969, 1985, 1987, 1995, 2002 and 2010 got the nod which is about right – 2012 and the Medinah miracle makers clashed with the London Olympics.
This award, as predicted, didn’t go to the Ryder Cup boys as England’s netball stars doubled up with the team as well as the Moment of the Year, an award for which Tiger Woods was nominated for his 80th PGA Tour win in September.
Colin Montgomerie and Paul McGinley have also been singled out in the ‘coach award’, something that only started out in 1999. Again it seems unlikely that the likes of Pete Cowen, an actual coach and someone who now has his own Grand Slam after helping Brooks Koepka to his US Open win, will get much of a mention.
There was one chink of light for the golfing world with Francesco Molinari taking the World Sports Star award, which he received from his good friend and bed fellow Fleetwood, while Thorbjorn Olesen and vice-captain – and likely 2020 skipper – Padraig Harrington joined them on stage.
The big award went to Geraint Thomas. This was a fourth win for cycling since 2008 which says something about the popularity of the sport.
But what a shame any other golfing highlights passed by in a blur.