After a particularly brutal day at work on Wednesday I got home, slumped onto the sofa, turned the telly on and started channel hopping in the hope of finding something to watch that would make my mood better. As it was before 7pm my options were very limited and much to my utter disappointment there wasn’t a single program on where an assistant in a retail environment attacked an utter toss face of a customer for wasting half his week on a pointless and futile attempt to find him a car only for him to back out just after the job had been successfully completed. If this program had of been on Ideally it would have then gone on to show in some fairly graphic detail how the handsome hero went on to spend several happy hours beating the living crap out of this utter moronic excuse for a human being and, to the cheers of many, went on to be knighted for his services to anti- knobism the world over. But alas this program wasn’t on so I watched the golf instead.
This tournament, which was being broadcast on one of the minor sports channels, featured nobody I’d ever heard of and was being played in an obscure location somewhere in Europe and although it was only a minor competition,they were playing for a prize that would probably make a bankers bonus look like loose change. There was an interesting moment on one of the holes that got my attention and gave me an idea for today’s post. What happened was that one of the players tee’d off on a par 3 and hit his ball to within 2cm of the hole and, suitably impressed,the crowd clapped appreciatively and told each other how magnificent a shot it was. Once the clapping died down the playing partner of player ‘A’ took his shot which arrived at the green at a million miles an hour, bounced once and fell into the hole after hitting the flag stick. All the spectators clapped even harder, whooped a little and the players congratulated each other on how brilliant they had been. What struck me about this moment was how bloody lucky player ‘B’ had been because he had clearly over hit his shot and when the ball hit the flag stick and dropped into the hole, it was clearly a fluke. Both players had played their shots to get as close as possible to the hole and player ‘A’ executed it exactly as he planned. Player ‘B’ though got lucky and as a result of getting lucky got his hole in one and a new car from the sponsors. Anyone who tells me that he was planning to get it into hole in the first place is deluded as even the once mighty Tiger Woods would only ever play a par 3 with a view to giving himself as easy a putt as possible and not aiming to score a direct strike.
And it was this twist of fortune/ fickle finger of fate (call it what you will) that got me thinking about why it is that I tend to find myself more interested in the nearly men of sport as opposed to the true champions. But before I go on to explain myself, I should quickly say that I do of course admire the true genius of history’s winners and I could spend eternity watching and admiring their greatness. But because I’m pretty rubbish at all sports I tend to remember and empathise with the nearly men, the ones who like player ‘A’ do nothing wrong yet don’t ever get either the breaks or the luck even if they do go on to gain notoriety. For example;-
Andy Murray: Until last weekend, as far as Wimbledon is concerned Andy had flattered to deceive each and every year and had gained a reputation as a nearly man whom we could identify with. Despite this overwhelming sense that we would all be disappointed yet again, year after year we pinned our faint hopes on him that he might win the men’s singles championship for the first time since a t-shirt manufacturer managed it back in the middle ages. But rather than simply going down in history as a rather dull, Kevin and Perry type of silly haired also ran,and therefore guaranteeing himself obscurity in years to come, he blew it spectacularly by failing to lose to Djokovic last Sunday afternoon. The way I see it is that until he won it, he was exactly the kind of sportsman we like… an underdog or an outsider where housewives up and down the land would love him for his big heart and tenacity, and yearned to give him a cuddle to say ‘ bad luck’. The Jimmy White of the tennis world even.By losing regularly we could call him a plucky Brit or even a useless jock. Now, we’re going to end up calling him Sir.
Don Bradman: Given that he managed to achieve a batting average of 99.94 in test match cricket, he might seem an unlikely addition to this list, but I think the fact that his average was 99 and not 100 gives his story and added touch of romanticism. Picture the scene: Coming out to bat on his last ever test match at the Oval and applauded onto the pitch by both sets of players, he knew that he only needed 4 runs to secure a batting average of 100 which would assure him an insurmountable place in cricket folklore. The thousands watching sat back in their seats and awaited history being made in front of them. However what nobody could have predicted was that this was indeed going to be a historic day as Bradman had the only off day of his career and ended up getting out for a duck on just his second ball. If he had of gone on to score those runs, the bowler who got him out( Eric Hollies) would never be remembered or have his own unique place in the cricket history books and Bradman himself would have always been remembered as an inhuman machine of a batsman as opposed to a fallible bloke like the rest of us.
Jean van de Velde: Not a name that rolls of the tongue or one that you’ll find on a golf trophy of note anywhere in the world but this chap wasn’t exactly useless,far from it in fact. In the 1999 open golf championship he led the field by 3 shots and therefore only needed a 6 on the last hole to win his first major, a hole he had birdied twice already in previous rounds. With an amazing display of stupidity, poor judgement and arrogance he misjudged every shot from tee to green finishing up in streams, bunkers and fairway rough before finally carding a 7 putting him into a play off which he lost to eventual winner Paul Lawrie. The sight of him standing with his shoes and socks off,ankle deep in water with a puzzled look on his face is an image that will follow him around the golf world for the rest of time. Had he actually won, the memory of this victory would have been soon forgotten and he would have drifted into the fog of obscurity and disappeared quicker than Buddy Holly and never be remembered again. But because of his spectacular and epic meltdown his name will go down in history more so than if he had of won it and his place in the nearly elite is guaranteed for all time.
Frank Bruno: if there was ever a book written on sports nearly men Frank ‘glass jaw’ Bruno would be on the front cover. To call him Britain’s best loved heavyweight boxer is a bit like calling Top gear Britains best loved car show featuring Jeremy Clarkson, in that for a long time he was Britains ONLY heavyweight boxer of any note. Fearless Frank had the misfortune to arrive on the scene at the same time as Mike Tyson who without any doubt was the most fearsome heavyweight of his time. Having worked his way through the ranks beating some of his divisions fading stars and also rans, Frank and Mike eventually met in a haze of publicity allowing Tyson to batter our Frank to bits. For a time though history could have been different for both men. Frank landed a fearsome blow on his opponent who for a few seconds looked stunned by it and allowed the 20million watching on tv as well as the commentator Harry Carpenter to simultaneously shout “come on Frank” in the hope that our boy could do it. Sadly it wasn’t just Tyson that looked stunned. Bruno himself also looked a bit on the surprised side at what he’d done and failed to finish the job off allowing Tyson to compose himself, get a bit angrier and go on to knock Frank out. And that was the thing about Frank. Unlike every other boxer in history who, after getting a massive punch in the face, falls to the canvas, Frank just stands there and allows his arms to drop giving his opponent a free shot to finish off the job. Still he did go on to beat some bloke and eventually become world champion but he’ll be more known for his gallant losing, jolly laugh and panto performances than actually winning the title and that’s why we love him.
And that’s one thing about us Brits. With the exception of our football and cricket teams we can admire and respect those that try hard and even if they fail to cross the line first or achieve glory. I admire the guys who can get their tee shots close to the pin but I feel jealous of the luck some people get when their ball accidentally rolls into the hole as let’s face it,it’s a fluke. In tennis when a player hits the ball so close to the net that it hits the net cord and dribbles over to win them the point,the payer involved usually raises his hand to his opponent to acknowledge his good fortune. In snooker if a player flukes a shot they do the same thing so why not in golf? I think Player ‘B’ should have looked a bit sheepish, apologised and given the keys to his new car back to BMW. As you will have probably guessed I’ve never had a hole in one. Or a BMW.