Sport Golf

Tuesday 20 February 2018

'Wedge' finds perfect pitch Faldo passes his swing test Clarke not wild on Langer pick Mahony's 18th has seen it all Too much, too early for Green

Dermot Gilleece

James Arthur, the caddie-master at Killarney for the last 15 years, is known around the club and further afield, simply as 'Wedge'.

And the very mention of that sobriquet is enough to strike fear into youngsters who earn valuable summer cash at €50 a round from toting bags around the world-famous resort.

During Irish Open week, he has been the great fixer. Arranging fly-fishing for Darren Clarke; ensuring there were trolleys on every tee for Wednesday's two pro-ams with shotgun starts; taking care of the professionals' clubs in the bag-room and fetching towels for shower-rooms where necessary.

One could imagine Wedge meeting with the approval of Henry Longhurst, whose only venture into golf-course architecture, incidentally, was with Lord Castlerosse on Mahony's Point. "Boys," wrote Longhurst, "are the golfer's perfect alibi. They snivel, hiccup, wander off looking for larks' nests, rattle the clubs or drop the flagstick with a resounding thump. You can always blame 'that wretched boy'. And how gratifying once again to be shouting 'Stand still there!' in one's best barrack-square voice and not be answered back."

"I first came to Killarney as an assistant professional to Tony Coveney in 1972," said Wedge, who hails from Mullingar. "I then left the club but after marrying a Killarney girl, Margaret, I returned here as caddie-master. There were about 50 caddies at the time and they'd wreck your head." Then, in a delightful mixing of metaphors, he went on: "Instead of the caddies wagging the tail, I put them back in their box."

Things were to change dramatically, however, after the disaster of 9/11. "When the Twin Towers came down, the caddying here ended," he said.

"From 50 caddies 10 years ago, we now have only about five or six regulars. The remainder come from the ranks of our junior members and kids going to college, including my son, Jason. I generally round them up by phone.

"In the good times, I remember groups coming here from companies like General Motors. Huge groups who brought cases of golf balls and rain gear to hand out to clients. And film stars. And sportsmen like Michael Jordan. And when things here were flying, Irish business people who would come to me and shake my hand with something in it. The sky was the limit."

Adversity tends to bring the best out of the resourceful ones in our midst. And with his Irish Open days starting at 5.30am, Wedge will ensure nothing important is left undone. Without the need of Longhurst's barrack-square voice.

Faldo passes his swing test

On the assumption that like any self-respecting structure, the walls of the breakfast room in the Europe Hotel here in Killarney have ears, they could reveal some remarkable golfing tales.

For this is where Irish Open competitors are currently residing, as they did when the tournament was here in 1991 and 1992.

As a memory of 1991, the distinguished Canadian golf scribe, Lorne Rubenstein, recalled a conversation with Nick Faldo (above) when the prospective champion was having breakfast in the hotel.

"Can you define the golf swing in one sentence," Faldo was asked. "Sure," came the reply, unhesitatingly. "It's the turning of the upper body against the resistance of the lower body, back and through." As ever, economical with words.

Clarke not wild on Langer pick

Given Darren Clarke's newly-acquired status as a Ryder Cup vice-captain, I wondered what he thought of the notion of Bernhard Langer as a wild-card choice in the light of a remarkable triumph at Carnoustie last Sunday. This is how our exchange went in an official, Irish Open interview.

Clarke: "Which team?"

Gilleece: "For the Ryder Cup team."

Clarke: "What year?"

Gilleece: "This year."

Clarke: "Have you been drinking?" (You will gather that Mr Clarke is a fellow of infinite jest.)

Gilleece: "No."

Clarke: "No. No."

Gilleece: "As winner of the Senior British Open?"

Clarke: "No. I couldn't see that, no. I think Bernhard is a great player; has been a great player. I think he's obviously played great winning the Senior British Open last week but it's a different field you're competing in the Senior British Open than you are week in, week out."

True. But I'm reminded of the famous remark by Willie Park Jnr that a good putter is a match for anyone. This is especially true in the Ryder Cup. And apart from being the most adaptable of all European Ryder Cup partners, the 52-year-old has shown admirable mastery of the long blade in three senior victories already this year, including a Major championship.

Mahony's 18th has seen it all

Players have been pottering around on what they perceive to be a convenient practice green at Killarney, without realising its place as one of the game's most iconic finishing holes. The par-three 18th on the Mahony's Point course overlooking Lough Leane has been pressed into humble service for the Irish Open.

Among countless climactic moments there was a rather special one in August 1964, which attracted a television audience of 18 million in the US alone. This was the Shell Wonderful World of Golf match between Joe Carr and Al Geiberger, who would go on to win the US PGA Championship two years later and become the first player to shoot 59 on the US Tour in 1977.

As it happened, Carr led by a stroke playing the 18th, which then measured 202 yards. With a breeze off the lake gently brushing the hole, Carr hit what proved to be an over-ambitious five iron which came up short of the green. So it was that with a bogey to Geiberger's par, the match was halved in level-par 74s.

Too much, too early for Green

As an early leader at Killarney, Richard Green found it difficult to nail down the impact the 1997 Dubai Desert Classic has had on his career. Beating Greg Norman and Ian Woosnam in a play-off in only his third event on tour was beyond his wildest dreams. Yet it created a reaction which affected him for years.

"Obviously, I was a young golfer who wanted to win," he recalled. "I wanted it badly. And it was pretty awesome to jump out of the blocks and beat Greg who was No 1 in the world and my hero.

"Some talented young guys like Rory (McIlroy) can handle that sort of thing. They want to win and it's fantastic to see. But I have to admit that it knocked me about a bit."

He explained: "It left me wanting more from myself and I simply didn't perform. In fact, I followed it with probably my worst year and it took me seven years to win again, in the Australian Masters. And it was 2007 before I won again on the European Tour.

"Perhaps I saw Dubai at an end in itself and it took a long time for me to rekindle the passion to win again. And in a way, I was lucky. Michael Campbell hasn't done it since the US Open and Ian Baker-Finch won nothing after the 1991 Open. You've got to leave your goals open."

Sunday Independent

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