When Carl Pettersson won at Hilton Head and Colt Knost and Charley Hoffman similarly featured in the tournament’s later stages, portly golfers the world over would have breathed a heavy sigh of relief. And been able to tuck into their next pie in peace.
Among other possible side effects, it would be no bad thing if amateur bodies have been prompted to take a second look at what they expect of their charges. There are tales of top youngsters in the UK having to watch what they eat and drink to the point where they must set their alarm clocks at four in the morning to down another bottle of water.
Golf should surely be more about how players feel over the ball than whether they tick all the right boxes in the fitness and nutrition manuals. To quote Pettersson, “We’re not running a marathon, we’re playing golf.” On much the same tack, it is the birdies and pars which go down on the scorecard rather than pounds and ounces.
In days gone by, no one batted an eyelid if a golfer was overweight. Bobby Locke, a four-time winner of the Open, was not exactly svelte, and neither was John Panton. The latter, who defeated Sam Snead to win the World Seniors, was so comfortably contoured that when he won a low-slung sports car, he declined the photographers’ request that he climb into the vehicle on the grounds that he might not get out.
Craig Stadler, who won the 1982 Masters, enjoyed his food and so, too, did John Daly, at least until his stomach was kept firmly in bounds with a gastric band. When Daly captured the 1995 Open at St Andrews, his relatively harmless addiction of the moment was all to do with chocolate. Indeed, in his second-round 71, the most interesting of the available statistics had to do with his chocolate muffin count. According to his caddie, Greg Rita, he ate four on the eighth tee and three more on the back nine.
Laura Davies is another who does things her way. She has neither bowed to the modern pressures to go to the gym nor worried about others spending 10-times longer on the range than she does: her golf is fuelled by enjoyment. If, as she says, she did all the things she was supposed to do, she would probably have given up years ago. At 48, Davies has won four majors and is hoping to play in her 13th Solheim Cup next year.
Darren Clarke was carrying more than a few extra pounds when he won last year’s Open at Royal St George’s, as indeed was Colin Montgomerie during that period when he won his seven successive Orders of Merit. In fact, it was as recently as this year’s Abu Dhabi championship that Montgomerie cited 1995, when he was at his heaviest, as just about his finest golfing year of the lot.
Golfers will change anything and everything when they are not matching their expectations and, today, both Clarke and Montgomerie are on diets in belief that they will perform better at the end of them. They might well, only nothing is guaranteed in this game. Lee Westwood, after what he has been putting into his golf of late, will no doubt have been ruefully reminding himself of that following his latest near-miss in a major.
Pettersson explained that when he tried losing weight in 2009 and dropped 30 pounds, his game took a turn for the worse. He took remedial action – he has joked that it involved having 10 beers and an ice cream at bedtime – and everything came right.
Kirsty Taylor, a member of the LET, was another for whom a diet was manifestly not the answer. Having been Rookie of the Year in the days when she was seriously overweight, the English golfer succeeded in getting her size down to average, only to find that her play ended up in much the same league. When she lost her card, she caddied for Helen Alfredsson.
The late Sir Henry Cotton was not wrong when he said that the beauty of golf centered around the fact that it was a game for everyone – all ages, all shapes and all sizes.
In which connection, Pete Cowen, coach to Clarke and Westwood, has a fascinating tale to tell of that time – it was shortly before Rory McIlroy turned professional – when he was called across to Ireland to look at the country’s amateurs. The officials were understandably focusing on McIlroy until Cowen pointed out that the 17-year-old Walker Cup man wasn’t the only good player they had in their midst. There was another.
“Who’s that then?” they asked, startled.
“The little fat lad in the glasses,” returned Cowen.
The player who had gone seemingly unnoticed was none other than Shane Lowry. He went on to win the 2008 Irish Open at a time when he was still an amateur and, still carrying those extra pounds, he last year finished 25th in the Race to Dubai.
As Pettersson has suggested, it is the people at the helm who maybe need to lighten up.