Latest posts by Martin Moodie (see all)
- Discovering the lure of luxury at Hong Kong Airport and with Le Clos at DXB - November 25, 2022
- Nearing the end of my year of the RAT - November 21, 2022
- Q-rating a sense of wonder in Qatar - November 12, 2022
Now here’s a sporting and personal story to warm the heart.
Meet Matt Southgate (top right), a young English golfer making his way in the desperately competitive international golf world.
Matt from Southend was playing in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open over the past few days – but only just. With his tour ranking still comparatively low (I’ll explain why in a moment) he found himself first reserve to make the line-up for the event, which started on Thursday.
On Wednesday, a late drop-out meant he was playing. That’s hardly the ideal preparation for a tournament on a course as testing as the K Club just outside Dublin, especially given the projected adverse weather conditions.
But Matt, 27, wasn’t complaining. For he has overcome much greater odds. Just ten months ago he was a journeyman player who had lost his full tour card, nearly broke and spending much of his time transporting his two (now three) year-old niece Hattie Seymour (pictured below – photo courtesy of European Tour and the Irish Independent) who had leukaemia to Great Ormond Street hospital for treatment.
Trying his best to make it on the Challenge Tour (the next level down from the European PGA tour) he returned home from an event in Germany last July to discover he had testicular cancer.
Treatment followed and he could not play again until September, after which he headed to qualifying school to try to make it back onto the main tour. Somehow he made it, guaranteeing him at least a few starts alongside the Willets and Westwoods of European golf.
Thereby hangs another element (or two) to this story. After an outstanding first two days’ play at The K Club, the strapping 6ft 4¼in (191cm) 95kg, gentle giant found himself near the top of the leaderboard on five under par. Just ahead of him was a certain young Irishman. They would play together the next day. The Irishman’s name? Yes, of course, Rory McIlroy, multi-Major winner and the golfing darling of Ireland, desperate to win his home Open for the first time.
I met Matt at the Dubai Duty Free ‘Arabian Nights’ party in a giant marquee on Friday night where the welcome was as warm as the weather outside was cold. Some of the players turned up, others stayed in their rooms. Matt was there, sipping on a pint or two and soaking up the hospitality.
He joined King Power Group (HK) Managing Director Travel Retail & Duty Free Sunil Tuli, my fellow shareholder in The Moodie Davitt Report Dermot Davitt (pictured top of page) and me for a glass or two and told us how excited he was to be playing with Rory the next day. In a world where top professional sportsmen seldom mix with ordinary punters, he couldn’t have been more affable or engaging.
“Won’t you be incredibly nervous with all the crowd and media attention on Rory?” I asked.
“Not really, it’s just a game of golf, isn’t it?” he replied. “That’s how I look at it.”
And you know, that’s exactly right. It was just a game of golf. Matt has seen – and overcome – much more difficult challenges in his young life.
We toasted him warmly, wished him well for the next day and promised him that he would become the adopted golfer of choice for the global travel retail community (I explained how we had done the same for Leicester City Football Club – and look what happened to them. What, you think Claudio Ranieri and Jamie Vardy deserve the credit?).
On a miserably wet day, Matt battled hard but fell back in the field with a one over par 73. Not bad but his hopes of a vital big pay day and even more crucial tour points had receded.
And then the fairy tale finish. On a rain-soaked final day which would culminate in a glorious victory to the young superstar McIlroy after three final holes of breathtaking, outrageous brilliance under the most intense pressure, someone else was making a move on the leaderboard. A big move.
It was Matt Southgate. A string of birdies around the turn had him placed in the top ten. As he stood over a snaking 20-footer on the last for birdie, he had a chance of finishing fourth – and with it life-changing prize money of €200,000. He made it, of course.
The realisation of what he had done (and what he had overcome) dawned on Matt and the tears flowed (I urge you to click on this link and watch the video). He was not alone. This is some young man. The result means he leaps from 148th to 51st in the season-ending Race to Dubai. Wouldn’t that be poetic justice if he ends up in the home-town of the duty free retailer who via its commitment to Ireland and sport helped make the events of the past few days possible?
Just as importantly, wouldn’t it be great to see a boom in support for the charity he has taken to heart since his own illness? It’s called, rather neatly, Ballboys (http://www.ballboys.org.uk/) and it’s doing a fantastic job in raising awareness about the facts, figures and issues surrounding testicular cancer. Matt told The Daily Telegraph: “If my contribution persuades one guy to get checked out and to find out he has a problem, but like mine, it’s been caught early enough… well, I could save someone’s life. This has given me a great opportunity.”
And how about this on his sister Katie and her little daughter Hattie? “Katie is not a golf fan but she went down to the golf club with the kids on Sunday and there was a huge crowd in the bar cheering in the putts. She got very emotional and when I saw her yesterday she was still chuffed. And again to be able to put a smile on the face of someone like that, just by hitting golf shots…
“She says it gave her something else to concentrate on, even for just a short while, and that makes me so happy. No, Hattie is not great at the minute, but it will be special that day when we have a drink on her 18th and I say ‘You will never know what you did to us and for us when you were a little girl’. That’s the dream.”
So here’s to you and your dream Matt Southgate. You’re the adopted son of travel retail now and we’ll support you everywhere you go. And here’s to brave Hattie Seymour. Together you’re showing us all how to beat the odds and to live the dream, no matter how difficult the fight.
[Dubai Duty Free Executive Vice Chairman Colm McLoughlin presents the trophy to Rory McIlroy]
[Plenty of birdies at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open]
[Tournament winner Rory McIlroy gets a last-minute swing tip from King Power Group’s Sunil Tuli]