Martin Dempster: Shame on BBC for 16-second review of 2017
Sixteen seconds is all that was devoted to it and British golf really does deserve better at a time when it boasts the European No 1, Olympic champion and five male players in the world’s top 20, as well as exciting young talent coming through year after year in both the men’s and women’s game.
It must frustrate the English players in particular that their praiseworthy performances are constantly overshadowed on the BBC by lesser feats in tennis, for example, and that really is a shame for people like Radio Five Live’s splendid golf correspondent Iain Carter and also, of course, Andrew Cotter, Ken Brown, Hazel Irvine and now Eilidh Barbour. They must have been embarrassed to see a sport they are all passionate about being virtually blanked on Sunday night.
Clare Balding won’t be handing them out – but here are my own choices for awards in golf this year, a couple of which, as you might expect, are focused on the game in this country:
Player of the Year
A close one due to Tommy Fleetwood digging deep in the closing event to finish as European No 1, but how could anyone have begrudged Sergio Garcia ending his long and agonising wait to become a major champion by winning The Masters? It came, after all, at the 74th attempt after finishing second four times and in the top ten on 22 occasions over the past 18 years. No wonder the Spaniard has been wearing his Green Jacket with immense pride and the fact he then ended the year by also winning on home soil at Valderrama merely capped a year to remember after also getting married.
Scottish Player of the Year
Thanks to his splendid second-place finish in the penultimate event, the Nedbank Challenge, Scott Jamieson ended up top Scot in the Race to Dubai in 26th position, just ahead of Richie Ramsay. For his efforts during the year overall, though, the nod goes to Bradley Neil. The 21-year-old is now a European Tour card holder, having overcome a tough start to life as a professional to earn a step up to the main circuit as a Challenge Tour graduate. The way Neil ended his season, closing with a 69 and holing a crucial three-foot par putt at the last, in Oman was the mark of someone who has what it takes to be successful in this game.
Team of the Year
While tempted to pick the Great Britain & Ireland side, led by Scot Albert MacKenzie, that retained the PGA Cup with a 16-10 win over the Americans at Foxhills in Surrey, it would be remiss to overlook the US team that romped to an eight-point win over the Internationals in the Presidents Cup at Liberty National. It was an impressive effort from Steve Stricker’s side and it’s no wonder the likes of Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler and Patrick Reed are already looking forward to joining forces again under Jim Furyk’s captaincy in next year’s Ryder Cup in France.
Shot of the Year
Of course it was difficult not to feel sorry for Matt Kuchar due to the length of time it took, but Jordan Spieth’s recovery from the driving range after a wayward drive at the 13th hole during the final round of the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale was truly remarkable. It allowed the American to escape with a bogey when his Claret Jug challenge was in danger of collapsing and the boost he got from that was evident as Spieth covered the last five holes in five-under to win by three shots as the 23-year-old became the event’s youngest champion since Seve Ballesteros in 1979.
Event of the Year
Based on the quality of golf, it would have to be the Solheim Cup in Des Moines, where the standard of play from both teams can only have whetted appetites for the next instalment at Gleneagles in 2019. But, at a time when golf certainly needs to be spiced up a bit to try and attract a new audience, the inaugural GolfSixes event at the Centurion Club in St Albans proved a real hit. It was something different, involved a team element and proved fun for players and spectators alike.
Scottish golf may have been feeling a bit left out with the emergence of so many child prodigies around the world in recent years, but not any more. In winning the Scottish Girls’ Championship at Scotscraig, 13-year-old Hannah Darling became the youngest player to claim that coveted title since Jane Connachan, who was 14 when she triumphed in 1978. The Broomieknowe player added the Scottish Junior Champion of Champions crown later in the season and is definitely someone to keep an eye on.
Amateur of the Year
Given that they were both picked for the Walker Cup, it is a close-run thing between Connor Syme, pictured inset, and Robert MacIntyre, but the vote goes to the former. He qualified for the Open by sharing top spot with American Julian Suri, a subsequent European Tour winner, in one of the final qualifiers before beating the highly-rated Maverick McNealy in the US Amateur Championship. The Fifer’s soaring confidence in his final few events as an amateur has helped him get his professional career off to a superb start, having earned a European Tour card for the 2018 season.