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I made it to the International Pairs World Final. No, I ve not rediscovered my silky touch around the greens or found a partner with immensely broad shoulders capable of carrying me for 18 holes. My comparatively straightforward route to the global climax of this enormous event to which only the few remaining survivors from thousands of competitors from dozens of far-flung countries are technically eligible was achieved courtesy of an invitation from the organisers. Not a wild card exactly, which I wouldn t have welcomed anyway because it s bad enough embarrassing yourself in front of three friends let alone a string of national champions. So, thank God, I didn t have to peg it up on the magnificent Dukes course at St Andrews but could simply spectate, which is something I ve always been rather better at than I am at golf.
The event is the brainchild of Ross Honey and has been going for ten years. It s a brilliantly simple concept that has evidently caught on. Most of our golf is played in pairs so why not have a pairs competition? Individual clubs have a qualifying event, the winners of which go straight through to the national final. Then all the national winners meet up at a genuinely great course, traditionally in beautiful Scotland, for the World Final. Only the very best of the very best make it through, plus the odd jammy journo like me.
Because they couldn t tell simply by looking that I wasn t a national champion and a supreme athlete, I joined the procession that paraded through the streets of St Andrews behind a pipe band prior to the tournament. Fortunately, I was far enough back to appreciate the sound of the bagpipes.
Civic dignitaries greeted us and I bathed in the reflected glory being emitted by so many winners from such exotic countries as Nigeria, Russia, Singapore, Iceland and Malaysia. Two teenagers from Israel Ben and Yair Fredericks personified the spirit of the competition and took turns in proudly waving their national flag.
In bringing together so many diverse people from around the world and uniting them in golf, the slickly organised event appeared to embody everything that is wonderful about our game. And so it is with real sadness that I must address a less pleasant issue which for many, me included, marred what was otherwise a glorious tournament.
Handicaps are a sensitive matter and so I must tread rather carefully. In my reasonably considerable experience, events such as these are almost invariably won by single-figure players who have both the technique and the temperament to cope with the pressure. A low handicap/high handicap combination can work but two of the latter is surely one too many. Higher handicappers enjoy the odd spectacular moment but lack the necessary consistency that an extended competition and 36-hole final demands and so eventually fall away.
Last year s UK final was surprisingly won at Carnoustie by two English guys, Martyn Ashcroft (19) and Deen Graves (14) from Teignmouth Golf Club near Torquay. It was surprising only because they appeared to be the exceptions to the rule that single-figure players generally prevail.
There were many remarkable aspects to their win not least was the fact that they had previously won in 2001. Given that handicaps are supposed to give everyone a roughly equal chance of success, to have the same pair repeat in a competition that attracts literally thousands of competitors is incredible. When they first won the UK final there was no world final to progress to but last year s triumph at Carnoustie, with a truly amazing score, qualified them to participate in the 2008 final at St Andrews.
This year, Martyn Ashcroft (still off 19) and Deen Graves (still off 14), enjoyed a spectacular opening round and racked up a 44 point, better-ball score off three-quarters of their handicap. Lightning, it would appear, had struck again. Or, to employ a golfing analogy, it was akin to back-to-back holes in one. They followed that up with yet another 44 points to amass a barely believable 88 points and waltz home with no fewer than seven points to spare over the gritty runners-up from Scotland, John Maxwell (4) and Stephen Brown (4).
At the press conference afterwards, Martyn Ashcroft spoke of being in the zone. The only zone a 19-handicapper has any right to inhabit is the drop zone! Please don t misunderstand me, I m not suggesting for a moment that the winners handicaps were not their official handicaps but it would appear that if they had put as much effort into reducing them as they obviously had into winning the International Pairs UK final (twice) and the World Final, they would surely now be playing off considerably less than 19 and 14.
I don t fear solicitors letters but I am a little anxious that having written all of the above, my chances of a repeat appearance at next year s World Final might be considerably lower than those of Messrs Ashcroft and Graves winning yet again.
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