Sport

DODGY TACKLE: Rory McIlroy's Open Championship nightmare shows golf is still not as easy in real life

Rory McIlroy looks for his ball at the first hole on Thursday at the Open at Royal Portrush on his way to carding 'a snowman' Picture by PA
Kevin Farrell

THERE wasn't much call or need for the sport of golf and its old world charm in and around Dodgy's neck of the Woods, pardon the pun, back in the '80s.

International Pro-Celebrity Golf on BBC One, like snooker's Pot Black, was only a passing fad. With the likes of Jimmy Tarbuck and Eric Sykes paired up with Lee Trevino and Ben Crenshaw, Peter Allis would then whisper to the wind and wildlife as a foursome in Pringle V-necks, armed with metal poles, hacked its merry way around some field called Gleneagles, probably not all that far from Timbuktu.

By first year English, we would discover by accident how the ancient game was actually invented.

Old Took's great grand-uncle Bull-roarer, who was massive for a hobbit – you're talking John Daly on Darren Clarke's shoulders here – charged the goblins of Mount Gram in the Battle of the Green Fields. He knocked King Golfimbul's head clean off with a wooden club and it sailed a hundred yards through the clouds before landing in a rabbit hole.

Bull-roarer then bought every hobbit in the Shire a pint of Harp Ice or Hobgoblin at the 19th before having Golfimbul's dome signed by all.

Anyway, despite that Tolkien snippet, ‘a driver' in our world remained someone who chauffeured the Shinners' top brass in a black hack from [Jose Maria] Sevastopol Street to Connolly (Club] House.

‘A fairway' was the rough distance between those two demarcation points, if asked precise directions by someone you didn't really recognise before you quickly got offside.

The R&A, meanwhile, was a different governing body altogether in Belfast west, obviously minus that game-changing and fairly important ampersand in the middle.

Greens were those cribbys/kerbs beside the white and orange ones all along Beechmount's RPG Avenue. And anyone scooped with a set of irons under a blanket in a car boot might have found themselves scratching their head in deep rough in Castlereagh – the holding centre as opposed to that hilly par 69 golf course which gently caresses the Eastern frontier.

That said, even the most discerning and innovative paramilitary, having exhausted their chest of 36-inch goalie hurls and aluminium baseball bats, would have struggled to get their paws on a full set of titanium shafts, Big Berthas or goatskin gloves back then. Bakebook's Falls Road Buy and Sell or Boucher Retail Park just didn't exist at that point in our chequered history.

A lack of accessible paraphernalia and pluck, mind you, didn't necessarily mean the bored, impressionable and clueless kid with ambition couldn't eventually become an accidental scratch golfer of sorts.

Provided you parked the over-rated emphasis on stuff like education and truly invested your mind and time in driving for show and putting for dough at all hours, the impossible soon became the possible.

The age of technology helped everyone along no end on that score. Armed with ZX Spectrum 128Ks and Commodore 64s – Amiga 500s and Atari STs if you lived past the graveyard – this new breed was turning to joysticks and pirate copies of mind-blowing simulation games such as World Class Leaderboard and PGA Tour Golf.

We didn't know it at the time, but we were already future-proofing ourselves for the golfing revolution down-wind.

You know that one where every barstool/water-cooler expert and his caddy knows more about the game than Butch Harmon for four long weekends every year?

Many moons before an automatic washing machine and the boul' Gerry Kelly (the UTV presenter for qualification) introduced a nine-year-old Rory McIlroy to our analogue screens circa 1999, we'd already been well indoctrinated.

Tour pros in Dodgy's clique were taking big pocket money off each other in huge ranking tournaments – actual Majors weren't available to plebs until the consoles, graphics and official licensing got much better.

Exotic courses like Sawgrass, St Andrews, Cypress Creek, Doral Country Club and the tricky fictional terrain of The Gauntlet were being ripped up with scorecards plucked from the golfing Gods. We knew every single bunker, dog-leg and dancefloor like the back of our cramping hands. And ‘Tiger Woods' had yet to be invented.

Being top of your order of merit could buy you serious kudos, usually in school detention due to sleeping in that morning thanks to, er, the time difference in west coast America.

By the time everyone had surfaced from their Ma's box room at some point in the '90s and sourced some real clubs in between going to real clubs like Kelly's – a mere shanked drive or two from Royal Portrush – this golf lark wasn't proving just as easy to crack in real life.

We all became awkward fusions of Captain Caveman and that sprog who flings the stick about at the front of a parade rather than able bodies who half-knew what they were doing with sand wedges or rescue hybrids.

With those post-Good Friday Agreement parkland courses popping up everywhere, we tinkered with our swings, grips and short games and very quickly started breaking 110 for the round. Some of us broke 100.

Many a good dander was spoiled in the process. But like all good sportsmen, we trusted that process. And then we all plateaued and flogged our crap clubs on eBay or Gumtree to buy a big carry-out.

It must have been how our Rors felt at the first at Royal Portrush the other day when his hopes of winning the Claret Jug for a second time in his career was washed away in no time at all.

With a tee shot that would have missed Dot Cotton's launderette never mind that unplumbed UTV prop of yesteryear, the Holywood man wasn't far off needing Bear Grylls (inset) and a peeler's spaniel to help him locate his out-of-bounds ball.

A spectator's smartphone got mangled into the bargain before the bookies' favourite for The Open ended up carding a four-over ‘8' to leave him seven shots off the lead inside 10 minutes of pure mayhem.

Depite the north coast weather being a huge talking point, no-one was expecting Rory McIlroy of all people to put together the first ‘snowman' of the weekend.

Fourteen years after his record 61 on the same course, a double bogey on 16 and a triple bogey at the 18th framed his opening round of 79 – almost the same number of smokes puffed by cool-handed compatriot Darren Clarke on the same day, incidentally.

“I would like to punch myself,” said a disappointed McIlroy afterwards.

We've all been there. But you've just gotta trust the process. It's nothing a day trip to Barry's today and a couple of wee Bushmills with a few games of Wii Crazy Golf in somebody's caravan tomorrow afternoon won't sort out very quickly.

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