In the swing – Time and tide wait for no man…

Another year over and a new one just begun. I think I can feel a song coming on! Anyway, it is that time when we reflect on what might have been, what has been and what may be. It can be a happy time or a poignant time, and I hope for everyone’s sake there is more of the former than the latter. This all sounds a bit melancholic, but far from it. After Christmas Day, when all the relatives we dearly love to see have vanished for another year, we have the opportunity to sit back and quietly muse.

So much happened on the golf and sporting front in 2003, and, for the first time since 1969, we had rookie major winners in the four main PGA Championships. It started back in April with Canadian Mike Weir finally breaking through as a major winner and taking the Green Jacket at the Augusta National in the US Masters. The US Open from Matteson, Illinois, followed in June. The winner was Jim Furyk. Although a very successful tour player, he had not won any significant titles prior to this. Well known for his unorthodox swing, Furyk saw off the best in the world to secure his first major trophy. Two majors gone, where is the Tiger?

In July, The Open conjured up its usual drama and excitement. There was the controversial disqualification of Mark Roe and Jesper Parnevik, who on the penultimate day had failed to exchange cards and therefore marked the wrong ones. Roe at this point had shot the round of his life over the notoriously difficult Royal St George’s links, which had put him into serious contention for the final day. In the mayhem that followed, Mark Roe showed immense composure and openly said: “There is no one else to blame but myself.” The classic line, though, came from Peter Dawson, secretary to the governing body of the event, the R&A. “We accept some of the blame, but we don’t take responsibility.” Who would expect them to, the poor little mites?

The lost Tiger fought a brave battle after starting with a seven at the first hole on day one. With typical aplomb, he commented: “Guess I knew I would drop three shots somewhere in the tournament. I just happened to do it on hole one on day one!”

The ultimate victor was an unassuming American named Ben Curtis, who held his nerve when all around were losing theirs. He was described by his father as, “a good old country kid from the middle of nowhere”!

Finally, in August we had the US PGA from Oakhill, Rochester, New York. I have always wondered why the US PGA is a ‘major’, but our PGA Championship is not… Or better still, why not a European Open? Just a thought. The US PGA produced the fourth unknown of the year, namely Shaun Micheel. Placed at 162nd in the world rankings prior to the event, he hit probably the shot of the year. A seven iron to about 12 inches on the 18th hole on the final day saw off his nearest challenger Chad Campbell and turned Micheel’s whole life around.

That was the year that was. It would, however, be totally remiss not to congratulate, albeit from a different sport, the magnificent England rugby team for seeing off a resurgent Wales, and a very resolute French team, before taking on the might of Australian rugby. It was all nail-biting stuff, but BBC Sports Personality of the Year winner, holder of the MBE and regular Boy’s Own hero, Jonny Wilkinson, finished them off with a trade mark drop goal in the last minute of injury time. No wonder upwards of 750,000 supporters lined the streets of London to show their feelings. Stirring stuff, and rather like the golf champions, the rugby boys are, above all, gentlemen within their chosen sport and a credit to their respective countries.

So take a deep breath and get ready for 2004. This promises to hold every bit as much excitement as last year. Apart from the usual golf majors, 2004 is the year of the Ryder Cup. This event is being held at Oakland Hills, Detroit, on September 17 and 19, and promises to bring the usual fervent patriotism that past events have. Will we secure victory? Only time will tell, but it will not be for lack of trying and we certainly have some great players who should be in the team. Fredrik Jacobsen, winner of the Portugal Open at Vale do Lobo, has also shown his ability in both The Open and The US Open. He is clearly one of Europe’s major players.

Darren Clarke and Padraig Harrington, who won in Hong Kong just before Christmas, are sure to be there. So will Sergio Garcia, who has just recently won the Million Dollar Sun City golf event. He has followed in Faldo’s footsteps, completely remodelling his swing, and it seems he is now bearing the fruits of his labours. Thomas Bjorn, who sadly missed out on Open glory following his tussle with the bunker on the 16th at Sandwich on the final day, seems to have recovered from the trauma and has played some fine golf since then. Exciting players, like Brian Davis, Paul Casey and the colourful Ian Poulter, will no doubt be doing all they can to make the team. It may be on American soil, but I will have five bob we can win!

The Open is at Troon, between July 12 and 18, and surely it is time for a home-grown player to shine through. I guess Monty’s chances have finally gone, but the course and conditions should suit the two Irish lads mentioned above. Another exciting event beckons.

So much to look forward to and, if you do get weary of golf, then you can always tune in to this year’s Euro 2004 football championship. Let’s hope England can finally achieve something – 38 years is a long time ago! But equally, let us hope that our supporters can learn not only from the behaviour of golf supporters, but from the impeccable support England received last year in the Rugby World Cup.

Finally, dates for your diary. The Masters is over Easter, starting on April 8; the US Open is at Shinnecock Hills, from June 14 to 20; and the US PGA, August 9 to 15 at Whistling Springs, Kohler. If these do not titillate your sporting taste, then surely the Olympic Games, in Athens from August 13 to 29, will…

Whatever your chosen sport, enjoy 2004!