OPINION

Golf's bits to remember from a year to forget

Review Of 2020

There is legitimate irony in 2020 – the measure of perfect eyesight – being a year that nobody saw coming.

For generations to come, when somebody asks for the definition of an annus horribilis, this will be the example provided.

Twenty-bloody-twenty, to give it its full name, won’t soon be forgotten. A year in which carers were clapped, companies were crippled and catch-ups were criminalised. 

Things most of us had never heard of before January 1 – Zoom, furlough and Joe Exotic – suddenly became familiar staples of our society.

At the centre of it all? COVID-19, an ungodly condition that sounds more like a Faroese footballing minnow that SPFL teams “would do well to avoid” in the Europa League than a virulent, fatal disease.

Nowhere on Earth has escaped its rampant spread. Not Saba, not Wallis & Futuna, not Vanuatu, not even Vatican City. I mean, you know it’s bad when it affects the big man’s home town.

Golf, as we know, has been severely impacted by the pandemic. It has been, to put it mildly, a challenging year for the sport, unprecedented in many ways.

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But amidst all of the fear, the doom, the gloom and the uncertainty, there has been a smattering of ‘good news’ stories; stories that have provided some welcome cheer. Here are some of my favourites…

* * *

Ninety-year-old Jan Collins, from Troon, set himself the target of playing 1,000 holes on a purpose-built golf course in his back garden before celebrating his birthday on June 10. Jan, a member of the Collins Dictionary publishing dynasty and a former Over-85 Wimbledon tennis champ, enlisted the support of junior golf company GolPhin to help him reach his goal. Making his effort all the more remarkable is the fact that Jan was diagnosed in 2015 with Stage 4 prostate cancer, for which he was still being treated this year. Not only did he complete the challenge with time to spare, he raised over £16,000 for Marie Curie and the STV Children’s Appeal. Inspirational.

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* * *

In a fairytale that her compatriots the Brothers Grimm would have been proud of, Germany’s Sophia Popov won the 2020 AIG Women’s Open at Royal Troon. The 27-year-old, who only guaranteed her place in the field at Royal Troon a fortnight before it got underway and who played just one practice round after arriving in Ayrshire 48 hours before her tee time, played like a seasoned champion over one of the world’s toughest courses. It was the then world No.304’s first pro win of any note. “I almost quit playing last year,” she revealed afterwards. “Thank God I didn’t!” Indeed.

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* * *

At 6’6”, Ian Finnis, Tommy Fleetwood’s Liverpudlian caddie, is a big fella. Turns out he’s got a huge heart, too. ‘Fino’, as he is known, raised over £125,000 to help fellow caddies through the pandemic with a series of social media raffles. As they say in his home town, he’s a sound lad.

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* * *

Despite the complications caused by COVID-19, the much-anticipated Dumbarnie Links opened for play when golf emerged from its spring-time shutdown at the end of May. I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek at it in March, pre-lockdown, and it’s legitimately brilliant, not to mention immense fun. People will snark and question whether or not Scotland really needs another high-end, high-premium golf course. In my humble opinion, when they’re as good as Dumbarnie, you can never have too many.

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* * *

Justin Rose and his wife Kate each deserve a medal for dipping into their own pockets and creating the Rose Ladies Series for British-based female pros. Not only was their intervention perfectly timed, it was brilliantly run and visited some of the best courses in the country. Let’s hope it wasn’t a one-off.

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* * *

Bob MacIntyre winning his first European Tour title? Martin Laird and Marc Warren ending their long winless droughts? Only David Marshall’s heroics under the lights in Belgrade gave me greater sporting satisfaction this year.

With that, it’s time to put some social distance between us and 2020 and look instead towards 2021. May your drives be straight, your putts short and your scores low. Much more importantly, may you and yours stay well. 

As C.S. Lewis once observed, “There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” 

Let’s hope so.

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