Many moons ago, I walked with Padraig Harrington during a practice round at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course. As he nipped a series of exquisite, one-bounce-and-check wedges, Harrington talked about the relativity of talent in golf. “You know,” he remarked, “the scratch player at your club is an awful lot closer to being you than he is to being me.”
Harrington wasn’t referencing the skill required to win major championships— at the time he was still four years from winning his first — nor even the talent needed to play on the PGA Tour. His point was more basic than that, putting in brutally realistic context the level of performance necessary to have even a faint hope of earning a living in the professional ranks.
That long-ago conversation came to mind this weekend as I waded through a Twitter thread initiated by Denis Pugh, the coach of Francesco Molinari. Pugh worked with Colin Montgomerie at his peak and with Seve Ballesteros. He is one of the more thoughtful men in golf and brooks no B.S. from any quarter, two traits that are assets everywhere except on social media.
On the second Sunday in April every year, Augusta National feels less like a golf course than an operating table, upon which men are laid bare and probed for frailties not readily apparent to the naked eye. And no facility in the world does a more thorough job of diagnosing a faint heart, a deficit of intestinal fortitude, an absence of daring.
Those aren’t ailments that will appear on an X-ray or a doctor’s chart, but the final round of the Masters routinely exposes each and every one of them.
Of course, the recent vulnerabilities of Tiger Woods have been more obvious: physical injury, swing woes, personal turmoil — each a test more daunting than anything Amen Corner can pose. By comparison, the crucible of the back nine on Sunday afternoon at the Masters must have seemed a welcome relief.
Carnoustie’s charms can be elusive, but its cruelties are readily apparent. The old links has scant aesthetic appeal, no alluring views or heaving dunes. Like the village from which it draws its name, Carnoustie is simple and functional, and that function is simple: stress test the world’s finest golfers until just one remains unbroken.
Sometimes not even the winner emerges unscathed from a cross-examination at Carnoustie. Paul Lawrie, the 1999 champion, sought therapy after his victory was widely dismissed as a gift from a clownish Frenchman.
There’s a reason why the lingering images from recent championships here have been of the vanquished, not the victors: Jean Van de Velde barefoot in Barry Burn, Sergio Garcia doubled over in anguish after his putt to win lipped out.
At Carnoustie Opens, one man’s ecstasy is invariably built on another’s agony.
Not at the 147th Open, however. It was won by Francesco Molinari, not lost by his challengers.