Monday, January 09, 2006

Paddy's Sports View 9th January 2006

As published in the "Bahrain Tribune"

I am not sure whether those clever people who study human DNA have found the sporting gene, but I am sure that it exists. It is that part of every individual’s genetic make up which determines their sporting prowess and, like most aspects of human ability, it is present to a greater or lesser extent in all of us. I have been thinking about this phenomenon recently in relation to the game of golf (and my continued pathetic attempts to reach even a respectable level of proficiency). I have come to the conclusion that it is all very unfair because those lucky people who have the gene can apply it to almost any sport. So good cricketers and tennis players are almost always good golfers and so (rather less logically) are good footballers. And those of us of more modest sporting abilities are modest at every sport we try - if only (we think) we good be good at just one sport that would be fine! But whether it is golf club, cricket bat, tennis racquet of football we can’t really hack with any of them!

Will, an old school friend of mine, has the sporting gene in abundance – he was effortlessly good at every sport he tried. I saw him again after a gap of many years quite recently at a corporate golf day. Now Will has always been a bit of an eccentric with what, I think, we now politely refer to as an “alternative lifestyle”. He is rather good at not conforming and it is always amusing to see what his latest minor rebellion against convention will be. At the golf day, held at rather a snooty Home Counties golf club, Will arrived in the car park astride a large and very noisy Harley-Davidson! Now the quick thinking amongst you will notice a potential problem with this mode of transport – it is not ideal for carrying your golf clubs! Whilst the remainder of us were unloading our clubs, trolleys and other equipment from the boots of our saloon cars we noticed that Will had a rather dirty canvas bag slung over his shoulders on the bike. On closer inspection the bag contained a putter, a wooden driver of uncertain vintage, a wedge and a couple of other ancient irons with hickory shafts. They were all about fifty years old, or more.

On the first tee three of us took a few practice swings with our state of the art Callaways, Taylors and Pings before hitting drives of varying degrees of ordinariness down the fairway (or in my case into the rough). Will then took his ancient driver from his grubby little bag and hit a drive of unerring accuracy two hundred and seventy yards down the fairway which he then followed with an exquisite wedge shot hit high into a bright blue sky from which it descended 6 feet away from the hole for a birdie.

The moral of this tale, of course, is that in golf talent will always out and the equipment doesn’t really matter that much if you have talent in abundance. This fact doesn’t stop even the top professionals from trying new equipment which might give them an extra yard or two or help them cope better with a touch of jitters on the green. But most pros could regularly break par with a bag of clubs like my friend Will’s and with an old rubber-core ball. This brings me to the subject of golf ball technology and the detrimental effect that advances are having on the professional game.

In 1980 the leading driver on the PGA tour hit the ball an average of 274 yards. In 2005 the top driver averaged 319 yards with money leader Tiger Woods in second place with 316 yards. The golf ball is, of course, only one of the factors in this increase but it is increasingly becoming one of the most important. Manufacturers now have a far greater understanding of golf-ball aerodynamics than in the past and they are able to use this knowledge, combined with new materials and manufacturing methods, to make balls which go further and further. Good news for the good amateur perhaps (although for the hacker like me it could mean only that my ball goes further into the rough). But is this really desirable in professional golf where golf courses regularly have to be lengthened to cope with these changes?