This is the new normal – that’s a saying we have all heard at some point over the last year or so isn’t it? Covid has changed all our lives in so many ways, from the slightly annoying to the utter devastation of losing loved ones before their time. Most people’s lives look somewhat different to how they were around 18 months ago, and, of course, on the European Tour things are no different. Well, what I mean is they really are different.
Travel nightmares, isolation, quarantines, locater forms and, inevitably, testing-testing-and more testing. Spectator-less venues and a noticeable lack of support staff and managers really has changed the feel of the Tour right now, and stress levels, or bubble fatigue as it seems to be called nowadays, have been rising considerably.
It was through this lens that a couple of weeks ago it was decided that although we headed into this season with the desire and hope to run a completely normal ranking system, it had become clear that, sadly, this is no normal year, and the rankings should reflect that fact. So, all the players who have a current category on the Tour, will, at worst, keep a category into next season, too. Movement up onto the Tour is still possible, just like in any normal year, but a safety net has been introduced to make sure that no player slides away into obscurity whilst trying to ply his trade in these incredibly challenging circumstances.
Thankfully, this year’s Challenge Tour graduates will still make their way onto the Tour for next season, after what I’m sure will be some trying moments this season, it will be justly deserved, of that there is no doubt.
One European player who has bypassed the Challenge Tour, the Tour School and all sorts of trials and tribulations is Viktor Hovland. Maybe his parents spotted something at birth and gave him, perhaps, the most apt name a boy could wish for, his latest victory coming at the BMW International in Munich. What a sensational start to a professional career, with wins on both Tours, a Ryder Cup birth seeming like a certainty and the golfing world at his feet. He clearly is some kind of golfer.
His progress has been so rapid it is hard to find the right superlatives to describe his journey so far. Jon Rahm surged to the top of the game after a stellar US college golf career. The fact that Viktor is following in Jon’s footsteps is perhaps the best compliment I can give. Come to think of it, both faced difficult circumstances as a prelude to their latest victory.
I don’t know the details surrounding Rahm’s positive Covid test at the Memorial, but what a crushing blow that could well have been for a lesser mortal. To take isolation in ones stride after having to withdraw whilst sitting on a 6-shot lead is an incredible achievement of making the most out of a terrible situation. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger is an easy cliche to roll out, but it’s all the harder to prove true, although John did just that in the most emphatic style with his adrenalin-filled win at the US Open.
What a dream way to win your first Major, holing the putt that mattered most on his final hole. The last person to hole a similar putt was Tiger woods on the very same green. I bet even Tiger raised a smile when Rahm matched his brilliance for a moment.
Viktors had to bounce back after a more minor setback, having to withdraw from the US Open due to getting sand in his eye is not your typical injury explanation but then, his tweet explaining his withdrawal to his fans was not normal either – a mix of self-mocking sarcasm and fact left anyone interested in no doubt that the smiling Norwegian is in a good place in his life. So, he proved on Sunday in fine style with a victory in one of my favourite tournaments, the BMW International.
Just around the corner now is the last Major of the year, can you believe, The Open Championship at Royal St Georges on the Kent Coast which, hopefully, will be baked in sunshine when the world’s best arrive in this tiny seaside town on England’s south eastern tip of coastline. One of the curious peculiarities about The Open is the way our best links courses are generally hidden away from our main towns and cities.
I remember playing a practice round with Rory Sabatini the year Ben Curtis famously won, and he passed comment on the fact that the house he had rented for the week could fit inside his garage back in the USA. Too true I’m sure, but that culture shock is, in itself, part of the charm of the world’s oldest and in my opinion greatest Major Championship. You really can still imagine Old Tom Morris and the likes playing on these wonderful links courses, and, who knows, they possibly stayed in the same houses as well.
Many people give golf a hard time for being stuck in the past at times. Personally I think it has modernised itself really rather well, and with some careful thought we can continue to innovate and change whilst still being able to enjoy both the courses and traditions that were put in place long before us by the legends of old who really started this wonderful sport.
The last winner at Royal St Georges was Darren Clarke, who had just poached my caddy, John Mulrooney, a few weeks earlier. Yesterday, whilst waiting for a flight I asked John to tell me the story of when Darren won The Open. Fate seemed to play its part of that there is no doubt, as it happens Muller (as he is known) has just started working for me on the bag once again, I’m hoping that fate may just lend me a helping hand to nick a spot in this year’s Open, courtesy of a top finish in Ireland or Scotland, so I’d better end my Column and go and hit the range, I think.
Until the next time, swing freely and enjoy the good shots. Sound advice I plan to use myself this week, too.