I have obsessed about professional golf since 1982 when Ian Woosnam won a play-off in Switzerland against Bill Longmuir. I remember very distinctly hearing the news on the radio, I remember being told how he’d been to Q School several times and I then tallied all this with stories my uncle had told me about playing Woosnam in club matches in Mid Wales – and getting turned over by a very small, very strong and very talented teenager from Llanymynech.
Since then I’ve been horribly limited in my choice of hobbies, I have surrounded myself with other like-minded obsessives (we assure one another that we’re the normal ones) and I will watch anything to do with golf.
Over the years, while friends were collecting girlfriends, I was busy collating three-hour video collections of the likes of ‘Golf Clubs With Tim Brooke-Taylor’ and some garbage where Norman Pace freebied his way around southern Spain, the name of which annoyingly escapes me for now.
My career high/low would be the 1996 Players Championship where David Livingstone opened the Thursday coverage with ‘We’ve got 38 hours of live coverage for you so what better way to spend the next four days than staying right here with us?’
I took Livo at his word. Four days later I hadn’t missed a single shot.
While friends and family were happily going about their lives I was possibly watching Tommy Tolles finally get over the line – in the end the Floridian was undone by a charging Fred Couples.
If I were to go on Mastermind my specialist subject would be something ‘golfy’, probably along the lines of ‘Around With Alliss 1979-86’.
In recent times I’ve even stooped to watching the Trilby Tour.
But, 35 years on from first scratching my golfing itch, these past few weeks have blown my middle-aged mind.
Where has all this come from? I had mentally consigned Phil Mickelson to the box marked ‘done’ with time ticking on and no Butch or Bones any longer in his life.
Now he’s a winner again, somehow upstaging Justin Thomas and his hole-out wedge down in Mexico.
As for Tiger, less than six months ago he didn’t know whether he would be able to be a vice-captain at the Presidents Cup, a competition in which he is rumoured to be the next US captain, as he couldn’t ride in a buggy as the bouncing hurt too much.
Then, through a variety of very un-Tiger-like Tweets, we got to watch him hit a series of unconvincing shots. That was only five months ago.
Smooth iron shots pic.twitter.com/v9XLROZnfW
— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) October 7, 2017
Now look at him. In his first few tournaments back we were all scrabbling around for the positives. His driving was great at the Hero, his scrambling was out of this world at Torrey Pines, a missed cut and equipment concerns at Riviera were brushed aside as ‘I am progressing. I’m starting to get a feel for tournament golf again.’ So that’s OK then.
At the Honda, where he finished 12th, he topped the driving distance and proximity-to-the-hole stats.
And now last week at the Valspar, THAT putt at the 71st hole and the chance to make the play-off.
The previous week, a WGC that Woods wasn’t even close to qualifying for despite having won 18 of them, Mickelson was reeling in Thomas at the ripe old age of 47 and now Woods was threatening to make it the strangest back-to-back victories maybe of all time.
And still we’re not sure – is Tiger really back? He wasn’t quite on his game on Sunday, was he? The putts dried up a bit on Sunday, didn’t they? The irons were a bit tentative, weren’t they? He could have left himself a shorter shot in to the 18th, couldn’t he?
Dear god we can be a tough crowd. The man himself admitted to entertaining the prospect that he would never play again, now he’s finishing one shot away from a play-off after four back surgeries on not even a course that he’s had multiple wins at or some hit-and-giggle week in the desert.
This was the nuts and bolts of a big week on the PGA Tour, around him were the likes of Paul Casey, Patrick Reed, Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose. On an early plane home were Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy.
Even his peers and rivals seem to be cheering him on. Maybe that will all change if/when he starts notching up the victories, maybe it won’t. This is like Jack Nicklaus and the ’86 Masters but in real time and with the rest of Tiger’s career left to play out.
Around living rooms, clubhouses and bars you just know that pretty much anyone watching was out of their seat and punching the air when he rolled that putt in on 17.
When he Tweeted this video hitting a less-than-explosive driver who on earth would have thought that what is currently happening would take place?
He’s now the joint second favourite to win the Masters along with Thomas and Spieth.
Tiger Woods is a 12-1 shot to win a fifth Green Jacket.
Making Progress pic.twitter.com/I3MZhJ74kI
— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) October 15, 2017
In my head I always go back to him hitting three balls into the water from 102 yards at a media day at Congressional in May 2016. He stretched before hitting the shots and then, visibly in pain, moaned and groaned after each short iron finished in the water. He had to be egged on to hit the third.
Look it up, it’s horrible and it formed part of a monthly guessing game about when he might play again. At first there was an element of surprise when he revealed that he would have to miss the Masters, then the US Open and the Open but, before too long, he had become old news. There used to be mention of an asterisk next to a major where Tiger didn’t take part, not any more.
There is a film ‘Awakenings’ where a British neurologist (played by Robin Williams) discovered the beneficial effects of a drug L-Dopa. He administered it (I’m copying this from Wikipedia) to catatonic patients who survived the 1917- 28 epidemic of encephalitis lethargica.
Robert De Niro and the rest of the patients were awakened after decades of catatonia and have to deal with a new life in a new time.
This is how I now see Tiger and Mickelson to an extent, men among boys who have been stirred from some darker times and there is now fun and laughter in their lives.
In the film the ‘awakening’ didn’t last and who knows if this won’t last? This might be as good as it gets for both men, Tiger might never get to 80 wins on the PGA Tour and Mickelson might never get his coveted US Open but, eight years on from either of their last major victory, they are still keeping us glued to their progress. Good on them.