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From Skegness to Switzerland – the life of a Tour golfer

NCG columnist Pete Willett on golfing loneliness, holidaying and his kids throwing up..
 

by Pete Willett

A typical holiday with my wife and children starts with a long drive, made insufferable by crawling traffic, incessant nursery rhymes, and back-seat vomit.

We arrive at our budget destination, always late, and always angry. On the first night, we eat substandard takeaway and stare at our yet to be unpacked bags. We then spend seven to ten days visiting all the children’s farms within a half hour radius, and vow to stop booking small holiday apartments in places like Bognor.

This summer, courtesy of my brother, my family flew by private jet to the five star Hotel Royal in Crans-Montana, to watch the Omega European Masters.

My original intention was to write an article focusing on the contrast between these two experiences, giving a frank and bitter account of how we should all despise golfers for being so lucky.

But during this holiday, between gorging on plates of melted Raclette and gherkins, I started to consider a series of contrasts that were more interesting than the difference between Switzerland and Skegness.

Crans-Montana is the most impressive tournament venue I have ever visited. The course is a lush saunter over gentle slopes, carved into the side of a mountain, and surrounded by snow-topped peaks that fill the skyline. All the shops and bars celebrate the week long invasion with commemorative posters and merchandise.

The athletes mingle freely amongst the spectators, walking the same cobbled streets, eating at the same cafes, and even using adjacent urinals (I’m not going to name drop, but it was an impressive enough sight for me to angle my body away in shame).

So why, in the midst of all this harmony, did I start to think about how isolated and uncertain this must make some golfers feel?

Pete Willett

Professional golfers have extraordinary lifestyles: it is difficult to afford them sympathy. They travel across the world, sampling luxury hotels and exotic cuisine.

Their every thought is pondered, each move analysed, and any decision to wear a hat debated. Flocks of fans clamber for a discarded glove or sweaty cap. Their job is to play golf! Something regular people pay lots of money to do, only when their unreasonable partners allow them to, and they still have to drag their delinquent kids around with them…

So why, as I sipped Aperol spritz and watched these professionals stroll around the practice green, did I think about the strain so many of them must be feeling?

Golf is a sport that demands dogged determination, mind-numbing repetition, and an ability to channel moments of sickening nerves and surging adrenalin, into the most delicate of movements.

Pete Willett

It is possible for the greatest players to hit the worst shots & vice versa. At any given moment, anyone on the course can be the best player out there. Which means any player out there can win – as long as they hit a few perfectly achievable strokes in a row.

And this is why, aside from nursing a week long hangover, my thoughts for so many of the golfers kept drifting towards pity. Some of these guys train their bodies into tight, tanned packages of sinew and veins and every single day they hit shots that highlight their world class abilities.

They just need to string a bunch of them together between Thursday and Sunday. But, they will probably never, ever win. And once you have experienced a double patty in the basement of the Burger Lounge, having spent a day in the Swiss sunshine, the thought of losing it all, is a depressing one.

Of the thirty-five European tour tournaments that have been played this year, only three have been won by first timers. Of all the golfers currently racing to Dubai, out of those currently in position to retain their playing privileges (top 110), more than a third of them haven’t won during their entire career.

In any average tournament, with a field of 150+, it is common for well over half the field to have never experienced victory at the top level – and don’t forget the swathes of professionals who are struggling for invites, or continually competing in Q school each year, or trying desperately to qualify for their first ever Open.

Golf, the most gentlemanly of pursuits, is brutal. For the hundreds that have never won, no matter how hard they have worked, the statistics suggest they never will.

And I for one, sitting in my brother’s private jet, drinking his champagne, and stuffing his Godiva chocolate into my hand luggage, feel sorry for them.

NCG

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