JOHN COCKAYNE: In praise of comeback kids — but stay away, Gautengers
Tales of beating the odds abound, from Gary Player’s 1978 Masters win to Paul Lawrie’s triumph at the 1999 Open Championship
Among notable returns to work, the world’s professional golf tours are making a cautious, spectator-free resumption, with the exception of our own tour in SA as the pandemic tightens its grip on the region.
Certain major events, such as the Ryder Cup, have been postponed, while the outcomes for others are still in limbo, but the rationale of trying to live with Covid-19 seems to be gaining some momentum.
Some comebacks are especially welcome and include that of my own favourite cafe in Hartbeespoort, though on each visit I am not sure if I am there for a cup of coffee or a medical with all the new health checks in place.
However, the precautions do seem somewhat redundant when the area is full — as it was last weekend — of out-of-towners. The self-centred nature of people continues to astound given that the interprovincial travel ban is in place for good reason.
To ordinary residents in the North West, day-trippers are an accepted part of life near the dam, but under these circumstances, visitors are about as welcome — especially if they are from Gauteng — as a pork chop would be at a Shabbat dinner.
Still on the subject of comebacks, sport’s history is littered with great come-from-behind wins.
I was taught an early lesson about results and “the fat lady singing” when my father took me to Wembley in 1966 to watch the FA Cup Final. As a Derby County supporter, perhaps this is more evidence of the sins of the fathers being visited on their sons!
I had to choose which team to support and opted for Sheffield Wednesday. I think this was prompted largely by the team’s logo, which is an owl and looked fun to my youthful eyes. With the Owls 2-0 up at halftime, the game looked done and dusted, despite cautions from my father about the match not being over until the final whistle.
Needless to say, in the second half Everton proceeded to deliver one of the FA Cup Final’s greatest comebacks, won 3-2 and I learnt an invaluable life lesson.
In the vein of victories, which are not the sole result of the leader having a bad day, golf’s greatest comebacks include one of our own in Gary Player’s dramatic win at the 1978 Masters.
The man in black needed a sublime closing 64 to edge out a pack of chasing players including Hubert Green, Rod Funseth and Tom Watson who finished one stroke behind, all having shot par or better in the emotional cauldron of the Masters final round.
At the same tournament in 1986, Jack Nicklaus’s final-round 65 put him into his sixth green jacket. It was again a great example of winning a tournament as opposed to someone losing it, as the next seven players on the leader-board all shot sub-par rounds, making it one of the most exciting final rounds in Masters history.
However, the ultimate “comeback kid” has to be Paul Lawrie in winning his only Major at the 1999 Open Championship. This Open is principally remembered as the stage for Jean van de Velde’s historic meltdown and it is often forgotten that Lawrie had to shoot a tournament low-score final-day 67, over the notoriously difficult Carnoustie layout, and then win the play-off.
In making up the 10-shot deficit on Van de Velde, Lawrie leapfrogged a host of big-name players to take the Claret Jug and complete what still stands as the biggest final-day comeback in Majors and PGA Tour history.
Though Robert Gamez’s 15-and-a-half-year hiatus between PGA Tour wins is the longest, just on 11 years between winning his 14th and 15th Major puts Tiger Woods in a league of his own.
For those of you worrying about the future of your golf clubs, many of which took a beating during the lockdown, take heart, as business history is dotted with great comebacks — some even from the dead zone of bankruptcy.
For those golf clubs and businesses feeling as if they are looking down both barrels of a loaded shotgun, the trick will be to keep trading whatever it takes. The revival of Netflix, IBM and General Motors should prove that business comebacks, even for those that went over the edge, are possible.
In golf, “staying in the game” or grinding is a key part of any successful player’s armory. The need to remain calm and not become distracted by poor strokes or a “big” number on a scorecard are as important as hitting booming drives and pin-splitting iron shots when your game is on.
Great players will regularly turn what could have been a very bad round into a grinding score of 72 or 73, which will keep them in touch and in the tournament.
This is the status for many clubs looking at a business scorecard on which there are a string of bogeys and double bogeys — keep grinding whatever it takes and, as the Persian poet wrote, “this too shall pass”.
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