Bill Elliott at Augusta
An evening of delightful entertainment and a close shave for one of the nation's greatest hacks. It's all par for the course at Augusta National for Bill Elliott
Well, we are about to witness the start of this US Masters. Thank goodness. Few things in life are more irritating than the dog days before a Major begins. It is during this period that grown men interview other grown men about what they think they are going to do on a golf course and then these grown men write lots of words and other grown men read them. Yawn.
So let's cut to the chase here. Never mind what the golfers are saying - subbed down it amounts to: "I am playing really, really well and feel, god willing, that I can win this Masters.”
So, let us talk about the course. Fact: It is in the best shape I have ever seen and that is saying something. Fact: The greens are promising to be swifter and more treacherous than ever. Fact: The weather forecast is good, the first time for a few years, and so at last we have a chance to see some birdie-eagle action again at Augusta National after the negative play caused by foul weather in recent Masters.
All this is good news and the anticipation gauge should now be racked up. Meanwhile, the even better news is that my head seems to be recovering from the excesses of the annual European Tour International Media Dinner at Augusta Country Club. This is always a terrific occasion, the champagne and wine flowing like several small rivers, the food sensational and the service impeccable.
Two memorable incidents from the evening: my dining companion, the great Hugh McIlvanney, supreme sportswriter for the Sunday Times, alarmed me when he stopped chatting and instead turned purple, then began to clearly choke.
Hugh staggered away from the table and I followed while I contemplated having to execute my first Heimlich Manoeuvre. As I placed my arms around his chest I realised that if I got this wrong the big man – whose reputation as handy with his fists is well deserved - might well chin me. Indeed, even if I got it right I might still end up on the deck.
Fortunately, he coughed up the offending piece of meat just as I started to squeeze and all was saved. After a consoling glass of water and a couple of cigars we returned to the table where we found Jose-Maria Olazabal had joined us for dessert and coffee as he made his way home from the Champions' Dinner where Trevor Immelman's South African theme supper was adjudged "interesting" by all who attended.
It turns out that Ollie had enjoyed a practice round in the company of Alvaro Quiros, the longest hitter on the main tours. I asked Ollie how much longer Quiros was than him. He started laughing, eventually calmed down, and then said while shaking his head..."On average, compared to me, five clubs. Scary isn't it?" So scary we felt we had to crack open another bottle. Or was it two?
Enjoy the action.
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Bill has been part of the Golf Monthly woodwork for many years. A very respected Golf Journalist he has attended over 40 Open Championships. Bill was the Observer's golf correspondent. He spent 26 years as a sports writer for Express Newspapers and is a former Magazine Sportswriter of the Year. After 40 years on 'Fleet Street' starting with the Daily Express and finishing on The Observer and Guardian in 2010. Now semi-retired but still Editor at Large of Golf Monthly Magazine and regular broadcaster for BBC and Sky. Author of several golf-related books and a former chairman of the Association of Golf Writers. Experienced after dinner speaker.
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