Mel Channer was one of the most articulate and colourful writers of his generation, a former World War II bomber pilot turned grizzled hack who entertained readers of the Sunday Times for years.
We were sitting in the media room at the 1990 Goodyear Classic at Humewood Golf Club in Port Elizabeth and Channer, then 66, was dictating his third-round report to the copy typist on the other end of the line in Johannesburg. Fulton Allem had just arrived in the room, ready for his media interview.
‘Allem had an up-and-down round, a couple of bogeys and a couple of birdies,’ Channer said down the phone. ‘He’ll be disappointed with that.’ The veteran reporter had not ‘walked one hole’ that day, but that wasn’t strange. In fact, most media would wait for a golfer to come into the room after their round and the first ‘question’ would be, ‘Take us through your round.’
But Allem was a fiery character. ‘You didn’t see my round, I’m not disappointed at all,’ he said loudly. Channer looked up at him and then said to the typist, ‘Just hold on a second, my dear, there’s an arsehole here who wants to write the report himself.’ The room fell silent.
Shortly thereafter Allem did indeed take us media through his round, hole by hole, shot by shot. And it was then that I grew huge respect for golfers, in terms of the way they can relive every single shot they play, the exact club they used and where the ball landed. Little wonder some members of the media – it’s still a trend today – sit in the interview room and wait for a golfer to ‘take them through their round’.
And the golfer does it with enthusiasm, as if they were recalling what they had for breakfast. ‘On the 1st I hit driver, down the right of the fairway, 8-iron to 20 feet and two-putted. Next hole, dogleg right, hit 3-wood, cramped for room under the trees, took 5-iron, came out a bit thin, went over the back of the green, chipped up to six foot and made the putt. Next hole …’ and so it goes. Many a golf report has been written without the journalist leaving the confines of the media room. Cricket is another sport that can be reported without seeing a ball bowled; the information contained on a scorecard is a virtual ball-by-ball account of what happened out there in the middle.
However, the memory of a golfer doesn’t stop when they go out on to the course for their next round. They seem to be able to recall, in graphic detail, a shot they played on a particular hole years before. They will also tell you what kind of hole it was, even if they haven’t played regularly at that course over the years. They can even recall the direction of the wind. Or, if they have played a particular course for the first time, golfers – this is not limited to professionals – will be able to describe the exact nature of every hole on the golf course.
It’s an incredible gift. Little wonder golfers are among the most honest of sports people that you will ever encounter. That’s apart from those who struggle to count how many strokes they’ve played on a particular hole, of course, but those are in the minority.
So, next time that you’re in the company of a golfer who is able to recount in such detail, sit back and listen and marvel at their ability to tell it the way it is.
This column appears in the August issue of Compleat Golfer