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Hall of Infamy: Timing was all wrong for two of the greatest golfers of all time

Gary Player and Annika Sorenstam decided to accept the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Donald Trump.Gary Player and Annika Sorenstam decided to accept the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Donald Trump.Gary Player and Annika Sorenstam decided to accept the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Donald Trump.

Talk about extraordinary circumstances. I suspect Hall-of-Famers Annika Sorenstam and Gary Player, must have considered their options for excusing themselves from an awards ceremony last week. I know what I would have done—gone into precautionary quarantine—to avoid being conferred America’s greatest civilian honour—the Presidential Medal of Freedom at this point. It sounds bizarre, but given the events that transpired last week at Capitol Hill, and the role the outgoing President of the United States played in what incoming President Joe Biden called one of ‘America’s darkest Days,’ the timing was all wrong for two of the greatest golfers of all time to be bestowed an honour by a man, who by all accounts, tends to improve his lie when no one’s watching, and has trouble counting his score. Even though the ceremony was held behind closed doors with no media present, no strokes for guessing what a cringe-worthy experience it must have been for Sorenstam and Player. But not to take anything away from their accomplishments: the duo joined Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Charlie Sifford and Tiger Woods as the only golfers to receive the award.

There were no such moral dilemmas for the evergreen Lee Westwood: the former world number one, was conferred, yet again, the Associations of Golf Writers’ (AGW) trophy—the fourth time he’s done so. Westwood’s spectacular play in the blighted season—a 25th European Tour title at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, followed by a run of six consecutive top-20 finishes over the summer, and culminating with a runner-up finish at the DP World Tour Championship last month to win the Race to Dubai for a third time—was unprecedented at best. But Lee’s popularity has as much to do with his conduct and demeanour as it does with his performances. Lee also hosted the Betfred British Masters at Close House, and supported other events on a new UK Swing. AGW Chairman Martin Dempster articulated this quality well: “I feel that Lee Westwood is a deserved winner of the 2020 AGW Golfer of the Year Award and not just on the strength of his latest European Tour Race to Dubai title, brilliant as though that achievement may have been. Lee led by example after the European Tour came out of the first Covid-19 lockdown, admitting he found the environment at events totally different to what he had been used to during his glittering career but getting on with it in a professional manner.

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“I’m again honoured to be voted AGW Golfer of the Year and even more so to now win the award for a fourth time,” said Westwood. “I feel very fortunate and honoured to have won. It’s always a special award because it is voted by the dedicated golfing press who are out there reporting on the various tournaments. We all know 2020 was a very different year but they are the ones who continually keep a close eye on what has been going on in the golf world.” The prestigious AGW Golfer Writers Trophy, and initially awarded in 1951, recognises the team, person or persons, resident or born in Europe, who in the opinion of the majority of Association members, made the most outstanding contribution to golf during the preceding 12 months.

Talking of hall-of-famers, my all-time—favourite—Greg Norman, has been having a rough time lately. Turns out the man’s incredible physical prowess ( we all saw the scandalous photo from the beach that raised a few eyebrows last month) has not prevented him from getting the worst of the coronavirus’ effects. Norman revealed that, despite being in relatively good health and having a high pain tolerance, the “hideous” virus was “like nothing I have ever experienced before.

Muscle and joint pain on another level. Headaches that feel like a chisel going through your head scraping little bits off each time, fever, muscles that just did not want to work,” Norman added. “Then my taste failed, where beer tastes bad and wine the same… at times struggling with memory of names and things.” Here’s wishing the Great White Shark a speedy recovery.

So 2021 is well on its way and so it seems are major events. There’s plenty to look forward to. Poor Dustin Johnson will end up with the shortest tenure as the Masters Champion because the event will be held in April this year, a scant four months after the last iteration in November 2020. The perfect result would be if Dustin can successfully defend his title. That defence will mark the start of a full compliment of majors in 2021, with the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island in May and the US Open heading to Torrey Pines the following month.

The Ryder Cup is back too. The biennial contest was pushed back a year for only the second time since World War II; the teams will head to Whistling Straits this September, where Team Europe will arrive as the defending champions after their 2018 victory at Le Golf National. Closer to home, two separate Asian Swings return to the calendar after being postponed in 2021, with a three-tournament stretch taking place in Singapore, Thailand and China in April before four more events in successive weeks in October.

In my backyard, the country’s only real Muny—the Qutab GC in Delhi—has finally reopened the back nine after a couple of years of re-sodding. The pollution in India’s capital is, by the city’s own stilted yardstick, not as bad as last year, and golfers are landing up in droves to play. If you are considering teeing it up this weekend, then do call the course in advance to check for tee-times—a two-hour wait is par for the course this month. Have a great weekend!

A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game

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