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Every year in Augusta, Georgia on the day before The Masters golf tournament, a par-3 competition takes place. The mini-tournament involves a single round on a nine-hole, par-27 course. And here’s the thing – no winner of the mini-tournament has ever gone on to win the major event.
Why do I mention this? Well, first let me set the scene. I, along with many other travel retail executives, am in Dubai for the annual Dubai Duty Free Golf World Cup. This, to me, is far more a ‘Major’ than the Masters, the US Open, the PGA or The (British) Open put together. It’s a fantastic event, flawlessly organised by the Dubai Duty Free team, featuring two of the world’s best golf courses, amazing hospitality and a whole shed-load of fun. This year marks its 25th anniversary.
Now, while I have played in most of those 25 tournaments, it is fair to say that during that time I have not ‘troubled’ the scorers. That is a euphemism for the fact that I have always been at or near the bottom of the field. Unlike, I must point out, my business partner, Dermot ‘the divot’ Davitt, who triumphed here in 2013 (roughly the same number of shots I have played most rounds).
I believe this is not the natural order of things. Have I not earned the right to some golfing glory as well? Did I not found the company and bring in the Galway golfing great to the Moodie (now Moodie Divot, I mean Davitt) ranks? Let me tell you, I am teed off with the current golfing hierarchy in our company. It is not a fair way to go at all. But being green with envy of the Divot’s success is not good enough, I have decided.
Enter Giulio. Who is Guilio? Giulio is a golfing coach. No not a bus that takes golfers to the course but a teacher. A professional. A man whose job it is in life to bring hope where there was none. To lead hackers out of darkness and into the bright new day of golfing adequacy.
Guilio is my golfing coach. He has been for several months now. When Guilio first saw my swing, I could read his mind. It was saying something like this. “This man does not need a golf coach, he needs a miracle worker. That swing requires its own algebraic formula. If I coach this man, my own game will fall apart. And what of my reputation? If he goes out on the course and tells the world that I, Guilio Merolla, am his coach, I will be laughed at. Ruined. My business in worse tatters than his game. Is that possible?” All those thoughts flashed through his mind after watching me topping a single ball into the side netting of his golf simulator. It was one of my better swings that day.
But Guilio is made of sterner stuff. He took pity on me. “How long have you been playing, Martin?” he asked kindly. “51 years,” I replied confidently, “since I was 10.”
“That is the result of half a century’s practice?” he must have thought as I shanked my second shot into the opposite netting.
“I told you I had all the shots,” I said weakly.
Giulio took a deep breath. I could read the expression on his face. Italians are expressive like that. “This could need another 51 years to set right,” it said.
But business is business and so Giulio set to work. Now, of all the problems that beset my golf game, my short game is the biggest. Putting yips? Check. Chipping yips? Check. In fact, chipping yips, skins, fluffs, duffs, double-hits, air shots. Check, check, check, check, check. In fact more checks than you’ll find in the whole of Prague. When the chips are down… well mine never are. Heck, if there was a shot called the crinkle-cut chip, I would have it.
“I can hit the ball really well,” I told a highly doubtful looking Giulio. “It’s just when I get near the green…”
He looked at me benevolently. “You get near the green?” he was clearly thinking.
Fast forward a year. Giulio has made progress. He is now out of counselling. OK, he’s still got that same persistent eye-twitch that Chief Inspector Dreyfus developed in the Pink Panther movies after being driven mad by Inspector Clouseau but he is getting better. And, you know what? So am I. My short game has come along. Not a long way, you understand, but come along. Giulio has performed a miracle. Not quite on the scale of, say, feeding 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish (in my case it was 5,000 chips from which Giulio earned his bread), but you get my drift. Dare I whisper it, but I think I have learnt to chip.
And so, here I am at the Dubai Duty Free Golf World Cup 25th anniversary tournament, my bookmaker’s odds of winning at 67,500 to 1 based on previous form. Dermot Divot is at 25 to 1. Or was before yesterday. Now he’s 194 million to 1.
Let me explain. Yesterday, Dermot and I decided to have our own version of the pre-Masters par3-tournament. We invited along Martyn Westbury, a man who has had to live all his life with a tragic spelling mistake in his first name. “Y oh Y could my parents not spell?” he must have asked himself a million times.
Martyn may be misspelled but his golfing youth was clearly not misspent. He has a fantastic golf game (handicap 11) and a particularly adept short game.
An 11-handicapper, a former Dubai Duty Free Golf World Cup winner and me – a 26-handicapper who has driven his golf coach to consider chucking it all in and becoming a bus driver, as at least he could get that to drive straight.
No chance, right?
Wrong! The Divot lived up to his moniker, taking plenty of turf but generally playing as if he may have been on the wrong end of a few pints of Guinness not only the night before but on the course itself. And Martyn? Well, he played well, of course (and on it, too). Very well. But under handicap rules he had to give me a shot every hole on the par 3 course. And guess what? I triumphed. In one of the finest fields of three players in the history of golf I triumphed. Divot left in the dirt. Martyn wailing “Y oh Y”.
I walked off the course, beaming. This was a bigger shock than Leicester City F.C. winning the English Premiership, after all. My ‘winnings’ – an ice-cold Tiger beer courtesy of Martyn, never tasted sweeter. I texted Guilio to tell him the news. “Have you been drinking?” he replied. I had been, of course, but that was after rather than before my triumph.
Could I take my form into the next two days of real golf? Could I defy my 67,500 to 1 odds? I thought so, I really did. And then I remembered the Masters par 3 tournament winners’ curse. Remember? No winner of the mini-tournament has ever gone on to win the major event.
So that’s it folks. I too am cursed. I am not going to win the Dubai Duty Free Golf World Cup in its 25th year. I would have, of course, if I had not won yesterday. You read it here first. Get your money on Martyn Westbury and get it on fast. After the ignominy, the shame, the humiliation, the mortification of yesterday’s result, he simply has to win this tournament to save his reputation. The bookies have got him at 16 to 1. I repeat, put your money on Martyn with a Y. In fact, stake your house, your business and your family on it. He’s got winner (he would probably spell it yinner) written all over him. Messy, all that ink, but still…
And the Divot? The first-ever double winner here? I’m afraid not. Based on yesterday’s performance, even Giulio couldn’t repair the damage in time.