Spectator sport

Well done Danny, but Jordan will come back

16 April 2016

9:00 AM

16 April 2016

9:00 AM

Well here’s a thing: we’ve just had the first English bloke to win the Masters. Sure, an Englishman has won it before, but not a proper English bloke with a tattoo and the easy patter you’d expect from the man who comes to fix your dishwasher. And there were five Englishmen in the top 14 at Augusta, not to mention a certain Northern Irishman. No one likes a jingoist, but as David Coleman might have said, it’s really quite remarkable.

I absolutely love Danny Willett. He’s the ordinary guy from Rotherham, the son of a vicar and a maths teacher, who has just won the biggest prize in golf. He’s the kid from next door who has proved that with hard graft, luck and a loving family nothing is impossible. It’s just a pity that the man he had to beat was Jordan Spieth, who comes in for shameful abuse online. If you took any notice of the comments on newspaper websites you’d think he was golfing evil. The very opposite is the case. He’s not a Tiger or a Seve. He doesn’t hit long and he doesn’t shape shots outrageously. He’s a grounded, God-fearing Christian from Texas. He’s clean-cut, which is almost a crime in the trollosphere. At just 22, he is a real credit to himself, to his family and to sport. Spieth is a great player who had an off week. He still came second in the most demanding of the majors. Yes, he should have won and he knows that more than any of us. He handled himself with great class and dignity, just as Danny Willett did, but in more difficult circumstances. Perhaps that is why people over here are so damned rude about him.

After Spieth’s Masters win last year we learned that his sister Ellie has autism-related neuro-logical difficulties. She needs constant care and both of his parents volunteer at the centre that supports her. Spieth has told how Ellie, seven years his junior, doesn’t really know or care what he does beyond the fact that he plays a game and prefers to win. He says she keeps him grounded. Well, with faith and a good home, you would be kept grounded by someone like Ellie.

Spieth will also know that all golfers lose more than they win, even those who ‘dominate’ their eras such as Hogan, Palmer, Nicklaus and Woods. It is the nature of the game. Spieth had topped the Masters leader board for seven consecutive rounds, then he tossed it away. He will come back a better player. I hope he follows up his Masters meltdown with victory in the US Open, just like Rory McIlroy in 2011. We all love redemption.

Glad to see our old pal, Red Nose himself, Sir Alex Ferguson, popping up at the Masters after-party to tell Willett that he’d dropped £8,000 in a bet on Spieth. But quite where casually sticking eight grand on the golf sits with Ferguson’s famous left-wing, working-class ethics, I am not sure.

Much hoopla about the Grand National, but this is not the best race in the world; just a very long one with fences higher and more painful than horses are used to. Because it is not the best, you get poor-quality horses that fall and bring down the good ones. The handicapping worries me, too. It is years since the top weight has won and the sight of the mighty Many Clouds carrying the heaviest load — and a lot of betting money — going backwards after running a great race, was pitiful. He eventually walked in last. Maybe it’s time for the handicapper to give the best horse a serious chance. Just a thought.

Another friend of this column, Kevin Pietersen, has not ‘ruled out’ representing South Africa when he’s free to do so in around 2018. This sort of confirms everything one has felt about dear old KP over the years. He recently lauded the land of his birth for its ‘magnificent’ exchange rate. I’m sure we will be sorry to see him go.

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