• Inches from perfect

    Ryan Cairns column
    Cairns' road trip

    The Sunshine Tour is on the verge of something special with its latest marketing campaign: #Gr8nessBeginsHere, writes RYAN CAIRNS.

    There has been no better time for this new look.

    The European Tour’s co-sanctioned events on the Sunshine Tour always find a way to bring out the best in our talent, and I feel 2020 will be no different.

    The Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek has long been a player favourite and it was also the scene of my most heartbreakingly cruel, yet entertaining moment on Tour. The backdrop of the story is that one of my
    best mates, Jannie, was on the bag that week and we had spent the first 34 holes clinging to the projected cut line, before my tee shot found the fairway on 17.

    Two holes to go with two birdies needed to extend our stay at Marloth Park Bush Retreat through the weekend. With a solid approach struck to within 10 feet of the hole, things were looking up. Upon reaching the green, however, it become clear we had a mountain to climb.

    It was in the form of a lifted spike mark (pre-rule change days) towering above the putting surface, taking up almost a third of the height of the ball resting behind it. With birdie-birdie being our only way out of this mess, Jannie and I chose to play it bold by taking the break out of the putt with a firm stroke over the spike mark and down the hill of a green running at an ’Augusta 13 speed’. The ball only seemed to gather steam as it glanced at the left edge of the cup, with the return putt from eight feet lipping out.

    That bogey on the 17th meant a new challenge awaited us down the par-five finishing hole. Either hole-out for an albatross to make the cut on the number, or jump in the car and hit the road home.

    Frustration, adrenaline and desperation all played their part with the tee shot on 18, which flew high and long, coming to rest in the middle of the fairway and 206 yards away from Friday’s traditional front-left hole position. The discussion on the choice of club was centred on either hitting a high-fading 5-iron or a ‘throw-the-kitchen-sink-at-it’ 6-iron, as there is only about 10 feet of landing area over the water’s edge before the flagstick.

    Jannie said it first. ‘Cairnzy, hit the 6 as hard as you can and then if it falls short (in the water) we will take our drop right here and hit another one, just like Roy McAvoy’. That Tin Cup reference was all I needed to hear and 6-iron was drawn. Three or four ‘full-throttle’ practise swings later, I took the club away and launched into what was our last throw of the dice. Having reached its summit over the middle of the dam surrounding that iconic 18th green, the ball began a descent towards the flag which left Jannie and I with our hearts in our throats.

    It landed about four feet on to the putting surface, took a couple of bounces and then began what looked like a slow-motion roll towards the flagstick. The ball stopped on the back edge of the cup, after lipping out, in front of a dozen or so spectators and a cameraman who had held both arms up in anticipation.

    Scattered applause from the few people who were waiting behind 18 for the marquee players to come through carried us over the bridge. Jannie then handed me the putter one last time that week, as I requested to tap in, while our playing partners went through their own routines. An eagle on the final hole to miss the cut by one shot is a difficult moment to capture in words, but doesn’t this game always find a way to do just that?

    Unlike every other long drive home from a tournament on a Friday, this one was not spent reflecting on points
    to improve on. With the music turned up, we laughed at our near-epic moment from over 200 yards.

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