KINGDOM OF BAHRAIN | Among those whose playing days are done, no one is having a more successful time of it than the 47-year-old Mark Roe. The Yorkshire professional is one of the hottest short-game coaches of the moment whilst simultaneously working as a key member of Sky TV’s commentary team.
The Volvo Golf Champions in Bahrain was a typically busy week for the ex-player. One moment, he was approving Darren Clarke’s latest putting regimen – the Ulsterman endeavours to hole 100 four-footers in a row every day – and the next he was keeping an appointment to work with Francesco Molinari. In addition, when his session with Molinari was over, he switched to TV mode and interviewed a couple of players before a journalist came across to interview him.
So how did someone who won no more than three European Tour titles become so high profile? A lovely short game has played its part, but it is mostly down to what happened in the 2003 Open at Royal St George’s, the links which will host this year’s Open Championship.
In much the same kind of unwitting offence as had Padraig Harrington disqualified a couple of weeks ago in Abu Dhabi, Roe was disqualified as he and Jesper Parnevik affixed their signatures to the wrong scorecards. In Roe’s case, his 67, had it stood, would have left him just a couple of shots off the lead and playing with Tiger in the final round.
Roe can remember, as if it were yesterday, what happened as he and Parnevik finished in the scorer’s hut. The scorer had looked up and said, “Congratulations, Mark, that’s an excellent 67. You are free to go.”
He had not gone too far when the mistake was uncovered and he learned of his fate. All the TV and media people who had yet to interview him – not to mention those who had done so already – had to introduce the worst of twists to what had been the best of good news stories.
For Roe, it did not sink in all at once. “On the Saturday,” he recalls, “I was in shock. I did all the newspaper and TV stuff and I drove home. On the Sunday, in contrast, I was unbelievably emotional. I spent most of the day crying upstairs. No-one had expected Mark Roe to win the Open but the impossible is possible in this game and I had been playing with an on-course calm I had never known before.”
Though he had had no hesitation in taking the blame at the time, he was soon struck by the notion that when an on-course official gives a decision, that decision is binding regardless of whether it is right or wrong.
“It set me thinking that since the scorers are in much the same position as the rules officials, why wasn’t their ‘okay’ good enough?” he said (such a suggestion was maybe going a bit far but, in 1996, there was a revision of the rules to give a committee the power to strike the wrong name from an otherwise correctly completed scorecard).
If there was any consolation to be had in the immediate wake of Roe’s experience, it came from the steady stream of emails and texts admiring the gentlemanly way with which he had accepted his lot. And from the realisation that this was a “professional” tragedy rather than the kind of personal trauma which, 10 years before, had him contemplating suicide amid the guilt of leaving his first wife.
There followed an unexpected turn of events as TV companies vied with one another to sign him up. An offer from Sky appealed – and he has been working as one of that company’s leading golf analysts ever since.
Conscientious performer that he is, Roe works hard to stay abreast of the players’ technical thoughts, and it was at the 2007 Scottish Open that he caught up with his old friend Lee Westwood as the latter was practising his chipping.
“If only I could chip like you,” said Westwood, lightly. To which Roe responded, “You will never be able to chip like me.”
When Westwood pressed, he agreed to help – and did so to the point where the man who would overtake Tiger as the world No. 1 notched as many as 17 top-10 finishes in his next 25 events.
It was immediately prior to the 2010 Ryder Cup that Roe suggested the small refinement to Molinari’s putting that contributed to the player’s winning of the WGC-HSBC Champions, ironically at Westwood’s expense.
Much though Roe loves the TV work, it is the coaching which has done most to take the place of a 21-year playing career that ended with what was in every sense a trouble-free 67 in the 2006 Dunhill Links at St. Andrews.
“When Francesco won in Shanghai,” said Roe, “it gave me as much of a buzz as if I had won it myself.”