Golf, bloody hell hey?
Thriston Lawrence had teed off in the final round of the Joburg Open at Houghton Golf Club with a three-shot lead over Dean Burmester. That lead evaporated just three holes into the final round and by the 5th hole, the 26-year-old was two shots behind his playing partner, who went on to claim a third career DP World Tour victory.
Here was Lawrence, the reigning SA Open champion and four-time winner on the DP World Tour, looking like a 14-handicapper early in his round. He looked a shadow of the man who opened with a round of 62 and led by those three shots with 18 holes to go. He eventually signed for a 75, eight shots behind Burmester.
This is a cruel game.
It’s also a beautiful game.
When Lawrence hit his ball into the bush off the tee on the 2nd hole of the final round, spectators and playing partners and caddies went to help him find it. At that moment I thought, ‘In what other sport does an opponent actively and consciously help his rival?’ Surely there isn’t any?
And you see partners helping partners everywhere – except perhaps at Atlantic Beach, where social media was abuzz with images of a mongoose attacking a huge cobra, and a week later a boomslang slithering across another fairway.
It reminds me of a round I played at the Wild Coast Sun Country Club where I pulled my tee shot on the par-three 6th hole into the bush on the left of the green. I could see the ball. I asked my caddie if he would retrieve it for me. ‘No,’ he said bluntly. Then, he said, with some fear, ‘inyoka’.
Ah, a Zulu word that’s universal. ‘Snake’. And there we could see what he reckoned was a mamba. I wasn’t sticking around to have a closer look. The new Titleist was tantalisingly close, but yet so far.
Anyway, I digress.
Golf remains one of the most humbling, yet sincere of sports. Sure, you’ll always get those with sharp pencils and the moment you see a playing partner counting his shots to the green as he stands over a short putt you know you can probably add one. But, it’s a sport that is honourable. In what other game do you get competitors, at any level, calling a penalty on themselves?
The cheats, of which there are plenty, are quickly found out. The 19th hole can be an uncomfortable place for those who turn up on the day and walk off with the prizes, with the entire field knowing that something doesn’t quite add up. Literally.
However, the camaraderie is unlike that found anywhere else. In events like the Comrades Marathon you see runners helping one another get to the finish. But, they’re not competing against one another. The sight of a golfer walking off the straight and narrow to spend a few minutes looking for an opponent’s ball is an underrated sight in sport.
Long may it continue.
– This column first appeared in the January 2024 issue of Compleat Golfer magazine.
Photo: Luke Walker/Getty Images