▲ Mark Fraser welcoming the winner’s cup. Photo by Brian Miller
Mark Twain once said that golf was “a good walk spoiled.” As Twain quotes go (and there’s a Web site called, rather uninventively, twainquotes.com), it’s one of his snappiest, except for the fact that it’s wrong. Golf definitely does not spoil walking and I think having golf around markedly improves walking. Take these two fairly similar yet distinct scenarios - A: You’re walking up a hill and you see absolutely nothing out of the ordinary. B: You’re walking up a hill and you see Ernie Els belting a ball into the stratosphere and back. With option A you’ve got some semi-vigorous exercise but with B you’ve seen a world famous sportsman competing in his area of expertise, along with your exercise.
So, Twain, you were wrong ... On Sunday, at the Ballantine’s Championship, I did indeed get to see the aforementioned Els whilst I walked up a hill and he did the aforementioned belting of the ball and it was great. But back to the nitty gritty and what actually happened, which on the first morning wasn’t much. European airspace had its volcanic ash and Jeju’s premier Pinx Golf Club had its fog. It was so foggy that play was delayed for more than six hours and only 36 players managed to complete the course on Thursday. The biggest consequence of this was that the tournament was cut from four rounds to three. The leader after the first day was Australia’s Marcus Fraser at seven under par with playing partner England’s Mark Foster just behind him at six.
Friday was busier, and most notably was time to see the returning local hero, the tiger slayer, last week’s China Open champion Yang Yong Eun, who had only managed to complete one hole on the opening day. Almost inevitably Yang carded 77 and 73 and was sent packing at the cut. I suppose the silver lining for him was that he got to spend extra time with his friends and family, who he presumably doesn’t get to see often now that he’s Asia’s greatest golfer. No such problems however for defending champ Thongchai Jaidee who carded two excellent rounds of 69 and 67 in a marathon 35-hole day.
▲ South African Ernie Els was a gallery favorite and a strong contender going into the back nine but dropped back to tie for ninth. Photo by Brian Miller
After the second round, Fraser was still leading at nine under with Gareth Maybin of Northern Ireland, Jaidee and the young Argentine Tano Goya all at eight and three-time major winner Ernie Els lurking ominously at seven. It was tight, nicely poised for an electrifying final day of pressure, surges and five-way playoffs.
Els had a solid first nine moving to ten under and staying within one of Fraser, with the Australian at eleven. Maybin went one better and was (very briefly) eleven under (on the walk from hole nine to ten). Unfortunately, on the back nine the wheels came off for all the challengers, although Els produced some lovely touches from the rough and bunkers to save himself a couple of times. This couldn’t last forever though and the bogies began to come at 11 and 14, with a double at 17 and another single at 18, leaving him well off the lead at five under. Maybin wasn’t much better and finished at level par for the day leaving Fraser a comfortable winner at four shots clear. No pressure and no surge and slightly anticlimactic.
Despite the foggy start, the sun shone for the presentation and everyone cheered. Golf may not always be spine-tinglingly exciting or gut-wrenchingly soul destroying, and it certainly wasn’t at the championship, but it did provide a very pleasant walk.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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