Monday 23 October 2017

Harrington's high five for Floyd's weapon of choice

Dermot Gilleece in Augusta

Plotting his way around Augusta National, Pádraig Harrington has been relying heavily on his favourite club -- the Wilson five wood which delivered such memorable magic on the 14th at Carnoustie in 2007 and the 17th at Royal Birkdale a year later.

Here last week, he discovered how it happened to become part of his armoury.

The story dates back to the mid-1970s, a time when five-woods were to be found only in women's golf bags. But this didn't stop Raymond Floyd thinking: "I'm going to try to find a five-wood, just for the Masters." So began a journey which started with a clubmaker in Memphis, Tennessee.

"The trouble here, in the 1960s and '70s, was even when the spring was pretty wet, you would still have very firm greens," Floyd recalled. "You would take three or four irons into the 15th hole and there would be more balls in the lake at the front of 16 on that day. When I tell younger players this, they look at me like I'm crazy. Like you couldn't possibly put a ball in the back lake at 16. But going into 15 with a low trajectory two, three or four iron, boom, it's gone over the green."

Which caused Floyd to contemplate a club to cover the distance on a much higher trajectory. It would also help him take advantage of the other par fives which remained very tricky targets, even though they could be reached in two.

Having acquired five pieces of persimmon from the Memphis clubmaker, he took the potential heads to another clubmaker in Hollywood, Florida. There, five clubs were made up with heads crafted to the player's requirements. "Two were especially to my liking and I practised with one of them from the fall (of 1975) right up to the Masters. I never used it in another tour event."

The upshot was that with his trusty five-wood in the bag, Floyd carded 65, 66 in his opening two rounds; went on to play the par-fives in 14-under par and equalled the aggregate of 271 to win by eight strokes. "The five-wood was certainly a great part of my success here," he concluded.

"So there was no five-wood before 1976," mused Harrington. Whereupon his caddie, Ronan Flood, made the smiling interjection: "That means that me and the five-wood at Augusta are the same age." He added: "Pádraig hits it about 230 to 235 yards, in normal conditions."

Dating back six years, it has been in Harrington's bag longer than any other. "I'd use it quite a bit here, possibly three or four times in the round," he said.

Rory McIlroy also has great faith in the club, which he hits about 240 yards. "I always carry it," he said. "It's particularly useful around here, especially into the wind on the par-three fourth, or at the 11th or 15th into the wind."

And what about the Floyd original from 1976? It resides in a special display-cabinet in the grill room of the Augusta National clubhouse.

* * * * *

Public expressions of thanks are invariably a lot more appealing when done with humour (Oscar winners please note). This was demonstrated beautifully by the latest recipients of the Masters Major Achievement Award in a charming media centre ceremony last week.

Jack Berry, attending his 42nd Masters, said: "I remember vividly back when Clifford Roberts was chairman here and was passing it on to Bill Lane and introduced him up on the stage. Mr Lane was ready to say a few words when Clifford interjected: "No, you're not chairman until the fall." So I had the best kicker (out line) I ever wrote. I wrote that chairman Roberts passed the torch but kept the matches. Sadly, the 'Press' clipped that last paragraph."

Harold Martin, another veteran of 42 Masters, said: "I was listening to an old singer, Alberta Hunter, singing a song called 'Middle Age Blues'. In the lyrics, she was looking for a younger man while highlighting the advantages of an older lady. The song went: 'Older women don't swell, older women don't tell and older women are grateful as hell.' I'm grateful as hell."

* * * * *

At lunchtime on the clubhouse lawn, I came across a player with a remarkable distinction. Lounging back in a chair under a sun umbrella was the first European ever to claim the lead in the US Masters. And here we were, thinking all these years that nobody from this side of the pond had managed that, prior to the breakthrough by Seve Ballesteros in 1980.

"I was on top of the leaderboard after the eighth hole of the third round in 1967," said Tony Jacklin, referring to his debut at Augusta. "I had got one of the four European spots in the event only because Neil Coles wouldn't fly."

Jacklin, who was then 22 and without a tour win, played in the first round with no less a figure than Arnold Palmer and outscored him by 71 to 73. "In fact, I shot 141 over the opening two days to be one stroke off the lead at half-way," he added.

"When I took the lead the next day, playing with the eventual runner-up, Bobby Nichols, the occasion began to overwhelm me. Too inexperienced to handle it, I ended up shooting 74, 77 for a share of 16th place with Doug Sanders, George Archer, Dave Marr and a guy called Wes Ellis. It was my first serious pay cheque ($2,100)."

Joe Carr also made his Augusta debut that year and Jacklin recalled going round and round the par-three course "about 20 times", by way of practising their putting. And he later did the same thing with Michael Bonallack and Peter Townsend, when they played Augusta in 1969. "We would play $5 a hole but I don't remember who won the money," he said. "All I know is that we had a lot of fun."

We Irish like to speculate as to how well Christy O'Connor might have done had he accepted even one of the many Masters invitations which went his way. "Christy was undoubtedly a great ball-striker but never a great putter in my book," said Jacklin. "And Augusta was all about putting. At best, he would have been a hit-and-run competitor and you're never going to do much good unless you actually commit to living over here."

* * * * *

Alvaro Quiros, playing in only his second Masters, left spectators gasping with some of his monster hitting here at Augusta. Such prodigious power requires ultra-special equipment, as I discovered on looking into his bag. "Those shafts are unquestionably the stiffest of anybody on tour," said his caddie, Alastair McLean, Colin Montgomerie's long-time bagman. When I informed Derek Murray of Foregolf that the Rifle Light, Quiros shafts were 7.7, he said: "That's amazing; off the planet. Most guys use six-point-something and the stiffest I've seen is 7.5."

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