Friday 24 November 2017

In legendary company on wrong side of the pond

As I walked past the putting green of the Westin Savannah Harbor Resort, venue for the Legends of Golf tournament, a voice behind me called: "Conas a tá tu?"

"Maith go leor," I replied over my shoulder.

"Buíochas le Dia," responded Eduardo Romero, with a smile that would have lit up the Port Tunnel.

It was a magic moment which culminated in the pair of us barely able to stand with the laughter. I had known about the Argentinian's knowledge of Irish, which he acquired from Pádraig Harrington and Paul McGinley on tour. And the meeting couldn't have been more timely as news about my flight home to Dublin remained grim.

Originally, the Legends of Golf offered the opportunity of meeting Des Smyth in a return to competition on the Champions Tour as the 2005 winner, when it was a 72-hole individual tournament. Since its inauguration in 1978, it's been a singles event only from 2002 to 2007, which gives Smyth a stone of his own on the Legends Walk of Fame, outside the clubhouse.

Christy O'Connor Snr graced the tournament on four occasions between 1979 and 1986, the last being as a partner to Doug Sanders. This was the so-called Peacock of the Fairways, who once humorously warned Lee Trevino, aka Supermex, at the US Masters: "If you don't shut up, I'm going to tell them where you swam across the border."

Trevino, who turned 70 last December, was there, irrepressible as ever. When I approached him, tape-recorder in hand, he promptly set the ground rules. "Go ahead, but I can't do a whole novel here. I've got to run." He then recalled playing in the 1985 Irish Open at Royal Dublin, where he met a man of the cloth by the 18th green. Had he come to offer a blessing, I ventured.

"Well if he did, he blessed me real bad," he replied. "My putting was so bad -- I hit 18 greens and had 36 putts -- that I gave him my brand-new Tommy Armour putter. I believe I finished on the same score as a young amateur. Kid called Ilostmyball."

"You mean Olazabal," I suggested.

"Yeah, that's him. Ilostmyball."

Anyway, while the Icelandic geological hiccups left me land-bound on one side of the Atlantic, Smyth was in the same plight on the other side. So he couldn't renew a partnership with Mark James which brought them a share of fifth ($66,500 each) behind Bernhard Langer and Tom Lehman last year. Ian Woosnam was another European forced to withdraw.

My original plan of travelling to Harbour Town for the Verizon Heritage after the Masters in Augusta was to give me two weeks in the United States, ending with a flight home last Sunday. Things changed dramatically, however, when Irish air space closed down.

Those of us who have been some time around golf are aware that caddies are the most resourceful fraternity. Which drew me to Cayce Kerr who, in academic parlance, would have a PhD in resourcefulness.

A close friend of JP Fitzgerald's, Rory McIlroy's caddie, Kerr treated himself to an Irish holiday around the 2006 Ryder Cup at The K Club, having won $10,000 by betting on Geoff Ogilvy to win the US Open at Winged Foot that year. I later met him at the Masters where he informed me he had gone into the wine business as a lucrative sideline. And proof, I was given a case of the stuff as a gift which I passed on to the female staff of the media centre.

Anyway, I wondered how he might get me home. "Simple," he replied, "you get yourself a nice ocean-going yacht. In fact if you had asked me earlier this week, I could have contacted my new business associate, Donald Trump, with a view to borrowing one of his fleet."

Seeing my disbelief, he proceeded to produce a business card which described him as National Brand Manager for Ernie Els Wines. Hence his dealings with the Trump empire.

With all this name-dropping, it's time for me to do a little of my own. Last Tuesday, in their search for off-beat stories connected to the golf, a TV crew from WTOC (a CBS affiliate) interviewed me. I informed them that the current situation showed how little we had advanced since Brendan the Navigator crossed the Atlantic, centuries before the Vikings.

As it happened, the bit they used as the lead-in to their 11 o'clock bulletin that night, had me suggesting that I could get home quicker as a stowaway on one of the tankers sailing on the Savannah River past the golf course and out to the Atlantic, than by scheduled aircraft.

It was some way short of Andy Warhol's suggested 15 minutes of fame, but good fun nonetheless.

Incidentally, I hope to be home by the time you read this.

DERMOT GILLEECE

Sunday Independent

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