A Shining Light
SO you thought Phil Mickelson's win at The Masters was good.
Well the unfortunate demise of Brian Davis in sudden-death at The Heritage last Sunday was every bit as uplifting for golf as it comes to terms with the appalling off-course antics of its leading performer.
Thierry Henry and the other hyenas who scavenge football's rancid corpse probably would have laughed themselves silly at the final few minutes of the telecast from Harbour Town.
Imagine it, a professional sportsman calling a foul against himself on the brink of a breakthrough win on the US Tour after more than five years trying to shed the label of 'journeyman pro'.
Augusta was always going to be a hard act to follow as Mickelson beautifully enhanced a swashbuckling victory in golf's most famous arena by falling into a tearful embrace with his cancer-stricken wife Amy.
Yet Sunday's climax to the Verizon Heritage was equally dramatic.
First, Davis (35) displayed his fighting qualities by forcing the tie with Jim Furyk on 13-under with a fantastic birdie on the 72nd hole.
Then he established his honour forever by pointing out to PGA Tour chief referee Slugger White that he'd faintly brushed the detached stem of a reed on his backswing as he hit his shot out of a water hazard on the first playoff hole.
With this split-second decision, Davis underscored the integrity of golf.
The ensuing two-stroke penalty (obligatory under rule 13-4 for touching a loose impediment in a hazard) ensured a second victory in four weeks for Furyk, who'd broken a 30-month drought on the PGA Tour at the Transitions Championship.
Furyk was first to express sympathy for Davis: "It's a shame, really ... obviously, I'm happy I won but I feel badly for him. I also respect him a lot for calling it to everyone's attention."
Graeme McDowell (back in the world's elite top-50 yesterday following his tie for eighth at the Volvo China Open) called a two-stroke penalty against himself during the second round of last month's Honda Classic when he brushed the water on his backswing while playing out of the hazard at 18.
If the Davis mishap seems more dramatic because it occurred in sudden-death on Sunday, it matters not to the golfer when or where any transgression occurs.
Davis thought he saw the reed move out of the corner of his eye as he played his shot off compacted sand in the hazard close by the green. He summoned the referee and a review of the incident in slow motion confirmed the offence.
Typically, Davis refused to make a big deal of his misfortune. "I shouldn't have hit my second shot into the hazard," he shrugged, while White overheard him saying to Furyk 'I couldn't have lived with myself if I'd not called it on myself'.
"He's class, first class," exclaimed the referee.
Significantly, The Heritage need a new $8m title sponsor for 2011 following the decision of Verizon to end their long association with the event. This selfless act by Davis surely must make new corporate partners easier to find.
ACROSS the water, it's known as 'the Dunkirk Spirit'.
It's all about making the best of a bad lot and being cheerful under duress.
Take national golf coach Neil Manchip, for example.
Manchip and the Irish U-16s were stranded in Holland following last Thursday's victory in a Four Nations Development Match with Scotland, Wales and The Netherlands.
Undeterred, Manchip put the time to good use, treating it as an extended squad training weekend, with his hospitable Dutch hosts placing facilities at the Irish squad's disposal.
The party of 11, including eight players and two other team officials, also made a sightseeing trip to the Dutch capital and visited a local theme park.
Five return, via Zeebrugge, Hull and Holyhead tonight, with the remaining six expected to arrive home in the early hours of Thursday, taking EuroStar to London and completing a marathon journey by coach and ferry.
Accommodation, food and other costs in Holland were roughly €1250 per day for the group, while additional travel expenses (less flight refunds) came to about €3000.
Yet team bonding and other benefits from this 'extended squad session' in Holland could be priceless for the players' development.
Elsewhere, Portstewart's Paul Cutler returns by ferry today after four nights at a Heathrow hotel following cancellation of his flight to Bangalore for the Bonallack Trophy match between Europe and Asia-Pacific, which has now, inevitably, been abandoned.
Leinster official Tony Goode, who drove Cutler to Heathrow on Thursday, then brought Irish Boys team members Paul Dunne, Chris Selfridge, Stephen Barry and their captain Liam Martin home from the Peter McEvoy Trophy in Birmingham.
Remarkably, Padraig Harrington's coach Bob Torrance and wife June flew through a gap in the volcano dust to Dublin on Friday evening, allowing the venerable Scot do remedial work on star pupil Harrington's swing before the couple returned by high-speed ferry to Troon yesterday.
Personally, it was uplifting to join the 'Irish evacuation' from London, via Holyhead, last weekend.
The good cheer of those crammed into a seriously overcrowded train from Euston prevailed throughout, even when our 'Stena Seacat' sailing was cancelled because of engine problems.
In swept Irish Ferries, bringing Stena's stranded passengers home. Nobody was beached at Holyhead that night. Truly, the Dunkirk Spirit. Even volcanic clouds have a silver lining.