I was watching the Golf Channel the other morning as I am prone to do when I want to avoid the national news feeds covering the “disaster du jour”. At least with the GC news is a lil’ more upbeat.
In recent weeks a balding man in his fifties has joined the telecast. I didn’t recognize him until his name was displayed during a segment he was analyzing. Jim Gallagher Jr. is now adding his take to the GC’s coverage of tour events. During his tenure on tour Gallagher was a decent player, winning seven professional events, five of those on the PGA Tour. He also was a member of the 1993 Ryder Cup team and the 1994 Presidents Cup squad. He doesn’t look like he did back in the mid-nineties, which is why his presence threw me for a loop.
One of the topics of discussion this day focused on Tom Watson’s captaincy of this year’s Ryder Cup team. The last time Watson served as captain Gallagher played for the Hall of Famer at the Belfry, an event the US team won. Gallagher predicted Watson would have a strong influence over his team when they compete at Gleneagles, Scotland later this fall.
One of the stories Gallagher told about his former captain revolved around a comment Watson made as they arrived in England for the 1993 matches. Watson told his team, “They may have invented the game, but we’ve perfected it.” Gallagher said the statement ignited a fire within the team.
Naturally captains, coaches, managers and the like use well-phrased quotes to create a spark with their teams. Perhaps Watson’s comment worked as the US went on to a 15-13 victory over their European opponents. Yet did he really mean what he said? Has America perfected the game? In many ways it has not.
While I could cite several instances where this is not necessarily true, I will refer to two cases where the Scots might just be a bit more “familiar” with the game.
I’ve visited Scotland on one occasion. It was on a golf trip with three close friends. I loved the country, its quirks, the people and its links. The one noticeable difference with the Scots is they are more apt to engage in matches, be they foursome or four-ball. In America medal score is more important than a match, even if a match is also proposed on the first tee. When players come into the clubhouse at the conclusion of their round here are the two responses likely to be heard:
America – “What did ya shoot?”
Scotland – “Oo won yer match?”
For me simple is better. While we all want to achieve our best scores, why not just enjoy a match victory or toast the winners for the day? In the Ryder Cup matches nobody really cares what the players shoot. Some go low, others struggle but in the end water tends to seek its own level – the matches are competitive duels. It’s all about the matches and gathering points.
The second example of Scottish know-it-all has to do with color, particularly the color of their links courses. In America it is becoming mandatory that courses be kept emerald green regardless of turf condition. On most US layouts watering practices keep fairways damp, approaches spongy, and encourage cross-pollination of fairway turf into rough areas. Our courses might be green but as compared to their Scottish counterparts they can’t compare. America’s game is played through the air. In the game’s birthplace the game can be plated along the ground, in the air or any combination of the two. This phenomenon leads me to ask one question – where have all the shotmakers gone? There don’t seem to be as many around as in the old days.
American golf has produced smashers and crashers where high launch angles and distance is all that matters. Perfecting the game? I believe we’ve taken away from it. Mr. Watson’s motivational quip seems to be out of place coming from a 5-time winner of the Open Championship. I’d like to think Watson perfected his game by winning those five championships and discovering the infinite number of ways golf can be played. Hopefully that message is relayed to his squad when they embark from their plane after it lands on Scottish soil in September.
While there is much to enjoy with golf in our country we don’t need to display an attitude that “our” game is more perfect than “theirs”. Both are very different and one is not necessarily better than the other. They are unique and all players should experience the two. This fall I’m looking forward to watching competitive matches on firm, muted-colored linksland. I won’t be searching for scores in the 60’s; rather 15-13 will do just fine. I’ll be rooting for Watson’s bunch to post the 15 on Sunday. For me that will be perfection indeed.