To me, amateur golf is the heartbeat of the game, but the little known, unsung form of golf known as foursomes, or Scotch foursomes, is absolutely terrific. I love foursomes golf. You should try it. Tee off at 9 am, come down the 18th at 11:45, quick drink in the clubhouse and home for lunch by 1 pm. On a crisp winter’s morning, what could be better?
Foursomes is largely an undiscovered pleasure. Many golfers have played it only occasionally and some not at all. Even in Britain, it is not seen much in summer. Long days, hard fairways, leisurely drinks as the sun sets. Everyone seems to have more time. They want to hit every shot. The trouble with foursomes, someone once said, “is there isn’t enough hitting.”
A game of singles with an old friend can be enchanting. You talk as you change your shoes in the clubhouse. You talk as you walk to the first tee. You talk after hitting your drives. You even talk to one another when you’re both in the rough looking for the ball belonging to one of you. Get the right singles partner, one who can keep in time with your pace and your standard of golf, and you are in for a treat.
The name of John Paramor, my favourite singles partner, may mean something to you because he is the outstanding referee on the European Tour. He carries his clubs in a pencil bag slung over one burly shoulder, which is always a good sign. He has the enviable skill of being able to watch and mark the balls of all his playing partners as well as his own. “Go on a bit, John,” he’ll say. “It’s just on the edge of that dark patch of grass to the left of that pine tree.” And, of course, he knows the rules inside out.
But the joy of foursomes is the way you can dovetail with your playing partner and move right along. One player drives while the other waits for the ball down the fairway and quickly hits the second shot. One lines up a putt while the other holds the flagstick or selects a club for the next tee. Two players meshing as if they are one.
Golf is full of names, some of which seem understandable and some of which don’t. A Stableford competition is named after its founder, Dr Frank Stableford. Singles strokeplay is straightforward enough – two people each marking down the score of the other.
But foursomes somehow suggests there should be four people involved, not two, doesn’t it? Twosomes might be better except that is what some golfers call singles. And why Scotch foursomes? Scotch whisky, Scotch beef, Scotch mist and Scotch eggs, perhaps. But what has Scotch, which is shorthand for whisky, got to do with a form of golf in which two people hit one ball alternately?
One reason why events such as the Ryder, Walker, Curtis and Solheim Cups are such a pleasure to attend is because they showcase foursomes. Team play in an individual sport is fascinating. Suddenly, players who normally have very little concern in what their peers are doing have to become very interested. Strategy is involved. Foursome’s partnerships require more thought than simply pairing a long hitter with a short-game expert. You have to assess the characters of the two players. Will they gel? Does one talk too much, the other too little? Do they play at approximately the same speed? Do they speak the same language, literally and metaphorically? Do they use the same make of ball?
The best foursomes partnership I have ever seen was Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal, the two Spaniards. Starting at the 1987 Ryder Cup in the US, Olazabal’s first, the Spaniards won both foursomes in 1987 and 1991 and won one and halved one in 1989. Including the 1993 match, they lost only once in seven foursomes matches.
The worst partnership was Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods in the 2004 Ryder Cup. Hal Sutton, the US captain, thought that the power and touch of the two Americans, at that time Nos. 1 and 2 in the world, would be unbeatable. He went for the shock and awe factor, seemingly forgetting that they were not the best of friends and had little chemistry together. Having been beaten by Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington in the morning fourballs, they were sent out again in the afternoon foursomes, as if Sutton could not believe his eyes. “They couldn’t fail twice,” the US captain said. They did. It was the greatest captaincy error I have seen in Ryder Cup.
One of golf’s disadvantages is the length of time it takes. Forego your fourballs. Have a go at foursomes. You will be surprised by how quickly you get round and how much fun you have. You won’t regret it. I promise you.