• Alistair Tait

This fickle game of golf


If ever you needed a reminder of this fickle game of golf then this weekend’s action provided it in spades.

Fickle, capricious, unpredictable, frustrating? Take your pick. One thing’s for sure: nothing is set in stone when it comes to this stick and ball game.

You can bet Andy Sullivan didn’t expect to wait five years to bag his fourth European Tour victory. Not when he snapped up three so quickly in one season.

Sullivan had a trio of victories in 2015. It helped him make his Ryder Cup debut in the 2016 match at Hazeltine. He seemed on the verge of breaking into the game’s upper echelon. Then he went AWOL. Yet through it all Sullivan kept smiling, kept answering the same old questions about why he hadn’t won again. A true professional in every sense of the word

That’s why it was good to see his ever-smiling face standing with the trophy at the end of the English Championship.

"I’m proud of myself,”” Sullivan said. “I wasn’t quite stuck in the doldrums but it just hasn’t quite happened for me since those three wins 2015. It feels like a weight off my shoulders now, and I think it told out there today.”

Sullivan went 111 events between his last European Tour victory, the 2015 Portugal Masters, and this one. He won it in style, too. The 33-year-old won by seven shots thanks to 27-under-par 257 around Hanbury Manor. He was clearly the star of the show, taking a five-shot lead into the final round. Even then he wasn’t quite confident of getting win number four.

"I never really felt comfortable out on the golf course all day, I found it quite a battle the whole way around until I started dropping a couple of putts on the back nine and my lead started increasing. I was always on guard.”

That’s what happens when you go 111 tournaments without a win.

Sullivan reach a career high of 28th on the Official World Golf Ranking in February 2016. That wasn’t unexpected. The man from Nuneaton was a top 10 player on the World Amateur Golf Ranking before he joined the paid ranks. He includes the Scottish Amateur Stroke Play Championship among his amateur accolades. He also helped Great Britain & Ireland win the 2011 Walker Cup at Royal Aberdeen against a U.S. side that included Patrick Cantlay, Jordan Spieth, Peter Uihlein, Patrick Rodgers and Harris English.

Back in 2016, many expected Sullivan to be a perennial player in the major championships. He arguably should have been at Harding Park challenging Collin Morikawa for the Wanamaker Trophy. Another tournament that highlighted this fickle game of golf.

Where do we start? How about Martin Kaymer seemingly making a comeback to get on the first-round leaderboard after an opening 66. His subsequent 82 is hard to explain. Shades of Rodney Pampling in the 1999 Open Championship at Carnoustie, when the Australian held the first-round lead with a 71, only to shoot 86 in the second round and miss the cut? The only difference is Kaymer is a far better player. The two-time major winner hasn’t been the same since blowing a 10-shot lead in the final round of the 2015 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Kaymer’s performance wasn’t the only head scratcher from Harding Park. How do we account for where Spieth’s game is right now? The former world number one looks like a lost soul, further away from completing the grand slam as he’s ever been and getting further away. Imagine where he would be if it wasn’t for his putter?

Did anyone really think Brooks Koepka would shoot 74 in the final round at Harding Park? Maybe many hoped so after his trash talk about Dustin Johnson, but we expected Koepka to let his clubs finish the conversation.

As for Englishmen, to think Paul Casey has never won any of the tournaments that really matter is hard to believe. He might have pulled this one off if not for Morikawa’s brilliance. Thankfully Casey still has the talent and the length to win one of the marquee tournaments.

Just as Brooks Koepka’s final round performance was hard to explain, Lydia Ko’s final hole collapse in the Marathon Classic is also almost unfathomable. You’d have bet your mortgage on Ko winning for the first time in two years when she arrived on the 18th tee. A double bogey saw her lose by a shot to Danielle Kang.

“It's tough,” Ko said.

Yes. It’s called golf. The most fickle game of all.

#JustSaying: “It’s good to be reminded of how good this game is. Anything can go wrong for anybody. Sometimes when you get on a roll, you tend to forget that.” David Duval

Photography by Getty Images courtesy of the European Tour

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