Monday, April 12, 2004

Scotland on Sunday - Sport - Other Sport - Old Master Mike is written into the annals

Paul Forsyth

GIVEN that the city of Augusta is famous for only one thing, it would be a dereliction of duty were the people here not to exploit it. On Masters week in this otherwise dead-end place, every gift shop is dominated by golf, every restaurant determined to welcome ‘patrons’, and every book store keen to promote a range of literature devoted to the sport.

Among the publications on display in Books-A-Million, a shop set back from the neon-lit strip that passes by the gates of the National, a sepia-tinted hardback cover catches the eye. "Augusta and Aiken in golf’s golden age," is a work of non-fiction by Stan Byrdy that recognises the sport’s long-standing contribution to this proud community.

The Scotsman’s veteran golf correspondent, Mike Aitken, insists that the weighty tome is in recognition of his service to the tournament, a decade that stretches back to the year when Tiger Woods first strode out on to its hallowed turf. And here was me thinking it was a factual account of this modest Georgia town and its neighbour 19 miles away in South Carolina.

Never mind Arnold Palmer’s 50th Masters, or indeed Raymond Floyd’s 40th, this is Mike’s 10th time tapping out words of wisdom and relaying them down the line to captivated readers. A bit like Palmer, there have been regal waves to the galleries, and one or two claims that he has had enough, but still he keeps coming back. You just can’t keep a good man down.

Alas, such professionalism is no longer evident at The Herald, whose feted scribe has become sportswriting’s David Duval, the golfer who once had the world at his feet, but is now kept a safe distance from these glamorous jamborees. Still, at least the Glasgow broadsheet was represented at Parkhead last week for the world’s biggest sporting event.

THE green jackets of Augusta National will be glad that Johnny Miller is nowhere near the microphone when the tournament reaches its climax this afternoon. Players are still mumping and moaning at the NBC commentator for saying in a live broadcast of last month’s Ford Championship at Doral that Craig Parry’s swing was "enough to make Ben Hogan puke".

The Masters, after all, is the tournament from which Gary McCord was banned for saying that they didn’t mow the greens in these parts, they treated them with bikini wax. In his place for CBS Sports is former US PGA champion Lanny Wadkins, who knows it is in his best interests to toe the party line. "You’re not looking to criticise," he admits. "You don’t need to berate somebody and make his wife and kids cringe."

Miller is often congratulated for telling it like it is, but his forthright opinions haven’t always hit the mark. After the second day’s play of the 1999 Ryder Cup at Brookline, he was so dismayed by the form of Justin Leonard that he said the 1997 Open champion might as well pack his bags and go home. Less than 24 hours later, Leonard had holed the decisive putt.

IT was more than a little disturbing to flick through the pages of the Augusta Chronicle last Wednesday and find that Scotland’s top representative in the Masters has been making an exhibition of himself again. As if it wasn’t enough to create a song and dance about his first-round bogey on the 18th, a trademark strop that had the tiny Scottish press corps apoplectic, it seems he has been no less animated away from the golf course.

Goodness knows what Eimar was thinking when she allowed him to perform at some sordid shindig called The Last Call Par 3 Party in a parking lot across the road from America’s revered golfing institution. "Reggae artist Monty Montgomery opens the show, followed by the Swingin’ Medallions, a South Carolina band that performs shaggin’ tunes and rhythm and blues," read the advertisement. Really, Colin, this will not do.

IT would be remiss of any self-respecting diarist to make it through the week without mention of John Daly, that big-hitting, chain-smoking icon of the working class who is to the Masters what Ricky Tomlinson is to the Royal family. What a pleasure it was the other night to pull into a nearby Hooters, purely for the purposes of professional research you understand, and find the 1995 Open champion holding court in the parking lot.

On the same night that the game’s elite were tucking into a feast at the champions dinner, here was Daly selling merchandise over the counter of his ramshackle trailer. Hats, towels, polo shirts: you name it, he was signing it, while also endeavouring to flick away the fag ash he was depositing on the goods.

When a couple of teenagers sidled up and asked him to autograph their citations for under-age drinking, he regarded it as an honour to oblige. "Hey kids, I like your style," he drawled, peering through the fug of smoke, and the dim light of his dated jalopy. If he had a care in the world, he wasn’t showing it.

Fuzzy Zoeller was asked last week what Daly’s mindset would be like for the Masters, given that his wife had pleaded guilty to charges in a federal court. "Does he have a mind?" asked the former champion. If golf is a sport in which thinking too much can be counter-productive, it is a wonder the Wild Thing isn’t its undisputed No.1.

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