John Huggan reviews the highs and low points of golf in 2011
Sit down at the back. Stay calm for goodness sake. We know this event comes along only once a year, but that’s no excuse for making all that noise. So keep the cheering to a minimum please. OK, now that you’ve settled down, we can begin.
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, here they are, golf’s most prestigious and sought-after awards…the Huggys!
Plonker of the year
As ever, when the Huggy ceremony comes round again, the despicable Steve Williams, a perennial contender, is to the fore. Yet again, the world’s most prominent luggage handler has seen off all challengers to make this category all but his own. To be honest, no one else was even considered. I mean, how could anyone get close to this intellectually challenged Kiwi?
First there was that laughably self-delusional outburst in the wake of the despicable one’s “150th victory” in August. You know, the one where “Adam Scott” was on the bag and Tiger Woods was in his wake? The Huggy committee felt it would be hard to top that for sheer inappropriateness, but the despicable one isn’t despicable for nothing. A few months later he got up on a stage in front of an audience and somehow felt it would be OK to racially abuse his former employer. Clearly, there is no beginning to Williams’ self-awareness.
Most telling quote
Ernie Els on his use of the belly putter: “As long as it is legal, I will keep cheating like the rest of them.”
Most egregious breach of dress code
The only explanation is that Lee Westwood got dressed in the dark. Or that he was dipped in marmalade before he went out for the last round of the Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews. Whatever, his all-orange outfit, right, certainly took the bit in the middle of a Jaffa cake.
Most ‘last chances’
When John Daly started to hit balls into the water to the right of the 11th fairway on The Lakes course in Sydney, it was (hopefully) final confirmation that the former Open and USPGA champion – famed for his ability to walk off/give up/lose it at almost any time during tournament play – no longer has a place in serious competitive golf. Minutes later, having run out of balls, Daly was headed out of the Australian Open (his young son pathetically following in his wake) and surely into golfing oblivion.
Not before time either. No one has had more barely deserved reprieves than the self-styled “Wild Thing”, who long ago became “No Thing”.
Most inspiring speech
Sophie Gustafson has a terrible stutter. So bad is it that the 38-year-old Swede, 18 times a winner around the world, routinely turns down any interview requests. But, at this year’s Solheim Cup, she decided to give it a try, albeit in an empty room with only a camera for company. The result was both moving and inspiring. Understandably taking her time, Gustafson, right, managed to answer a number of questions, both coherently and intelligently. It was, by a distance, the bravest performance by a professional golfer – male or female – in 2011.
Most offensive waste of money
The Presidents Cup, like all events that fall under the PGA Tour umbrella, prides itself on the contribution it makes to charity. Which is great. But oh my, how much more could have been passed to deserving causes had a veritable tribe of golf officials from across the globe – there must have been at least 40 of them – not been expensively kitted out in cashmere suits and jackets for the opening and closing ceremonies at Royal Melbourne last month?
The Huggy committee does not normally jump to conclusions, but it is a safe bet that every one of those officials already owns a nice suit, one that would have failed to offend any of the watching public. What a freeloading disgrace.
Round of the year
It was Arnold Palmer who once said that the hardest thing in golf was making a birdie when you absolutely had to make a birdie. Well, think again Arnie. Even tougher is winning a tournament when you absolutely have to win a tournament.
Which is just what Luke Donald did when he made nine birdies in the final round of the final event on this year’s PGA Tour to not only win the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic (main picture) but also clinch the money title across the pond. Even more impressively, Donald did it all with his nearest challenger, Webb Simpson, right in front of him. It was an enormously poised performance under huge pressure and confirmed what we already knew. By a distance, the 33-year-old half-Scotsman was the best golfer in the world during 2011.
72-hole performance of the year
We need look no further than Rory McIlroy’s totally dominant week at Congressional in the US Open. Anyone who leads a major championship field from start-to-finish – increasing his already sizeable advantage every day – more than merits a Huggy. It was hugely impressive stuff, especially as it came only two months after the young Irishman’s unwatchable meltdown in the last round of the Masters. Maybe “bounce-back” of the year would be more appropriate.
Most ludicrous disqualification
It takes a lot to win this Huggy. Over the years, golf has propelled players from the premises for all manner of spurious and downright stupid reasons. But this one might just be the worst example of the genre.
Andrea Kraus played in her first US Senior Women’s Amateur Championship last year. In her first round match against Maggie Leef, Kraus was seven up after 11 holes and clearly headed for an easy victory. Then again, maybe not.
In order to test the strength and direction of the wind, Kraus’s caddie was using a piece of string attached to his divot mark repairer. That, according to golf’s often-incomprehensible rulebook, was a breach of Regulation 14-3b, which stipulates that a player may not use any artificial device “for the purpose of gauging or measuring distance or conditions that might affect his play.”
Despite the fact that she is a woman (“his play”?), Kraus was disqualified and the match awarded to Leef. Absurd. Sometimes, the Huggy committee simply despairs.
The grand dames of the Ladies Golf Union have been regular winners of Huggys over the years and it is heartening for the committee to note that they haven’t lost their touch. Their latest triumph goes like this:
At the British Ladies Championship, two rounds of stroke play are used to determine the 64 players who will go on to the match play segment of the competition. So far so good. But last year more than the required number was tied for the last few spots, forcing the LGU to spring into action. Or rather inaction that didn’t delay their dinner plans.
Instead of employing either a preliminary round (as is used in the men’s Amateur Championship) or a sudden-death play-off to reduce the qualifiers to the required 64, the LGU, in their finite wisdom, chose a third course. Unbelievably, a “scorecard play-off” was the method employed. In other words, those competitors who played the best golf on the outward half of the second round of stroke play were eliminated.
For once, the Huggy committee is rendered all but speechless at the level of incompetence and unfairness on display here.
Quote of the year (2)
“Nae great.” Former Open champion Paul Lawrie, when asked how he was feeling as his son, Craig, teed-off in the first round of the Scottish Boys Championship.
Book of the year
In Teed Off: My Life as a Player’s Wife on the PGA Tour, Sherrie Daly, the fourth “Mrs John”, lays bare her ex-husband’s various problems with drinking, gambling, sex, anger-management and verbal and physical abuse. Just about the only thing left unscathed is “Long John’s” putting stroke.
Truly, it is shocking stuff. And well worthy of a Huggy.
Quote of the year (3)
“It was difficult following that. But it’s really not for me to talk about anybody’s bad drives.” Phil Mickelson commenting – or not – on the play of Tiger Woods. Woods hit one drive 122-yards and another no more than 90.
“Yeah, it was pretty tough not to giggle.” Graeme McDowell, the third member of the group that day.
Breakthrough of the year
It has always been easy to accuse a game ruled by an all-male club of rampant misogynism but 2011 did bring one ray of hope to the fuddy-duddy world inhabited by golf. Step forward Isabelle Beiseigel, the first woman ever to earn a playing card on a men’s professional tour.
With a four-round total of 296, Beiseigel earned the right to compete on the Canadian Tour. “I still can’t believe it,” she said. “It’s a little overwhelming.” It’s more than that. It’s one in the eye for that well-educated group of well-disguised good ol’ boys currently in charge of the greatest game. Well played, madam.
Most sympathetic figure
Nick Dougherty is one of the nicest people on the European Tour. At least he was. After a year of almost unremitting futility, the 29-year-old Englishman, three times a winner since turning professional in 2001, has lost his card. And, it must be said, he did it in some style, as in disastrously. In 33 events, the suddenly and strangely hapless Dougherty made just one halfway cut, at the Omega European Masters. Otherwise, it was home for the weekend. Every weekend.
The Huggy committee sends its best wishes to the amiable Liverpudlian in the hope that he will soon rediscover something like his normal form.