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 TOM COX
 Literally Golf

Memorex are made of this
Having recently unearthed his video player for the first time in a decade, Tom Cox settled in for an afternoon’s nostalgic viewing when he discovered a prized collection of old tapes

The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there,” L.P. Hartley famously wrote in his 1953 novel The Go-Between. Hartley, in the voice of his narrator Leo Colston, was writing about a red-collar box containing a diary written by Colston in 1900, during his youth. I don’t have a diary from my own youth, because in my youth I was an idiot without foresight, but I couldn’t help thinking of Hartley’s line when, while clearing out my loft, I recently chanced upon a somewhat less romantic cardboard box containing some golf videos from the days of my youth.

Having also not long ago unearthed my video player for the first time in more than half a decade, I couldn’t help investigating further. In stark contrast to the early ’50s, we now live in a time where – owing to the internet, and cheap, easily accessible recording technology – we have much more access to the recent past, so just how different a country would this turn out to be for me? To be honest, I wasn’t expecting any great shocks.

I did, at one point, have somewhere in the region of 300 self recorded golf videos, but during a minimalist, stubbornly forward looking phase in my 20s, I decided to get rid of most of them. Those I held on to were largely the pre-recorded kind – a few Masters, quite a lot of Opens – with the notable exception of one three hour Memorex cassette with ‘Tom’s Golf Lesson/1990 Players Championship’ scrawled on it.

I could say I didn’t know what I’d find on this, but I’d be lying. I knew that I’d find a charity skins challenge played at Walton Heath between Nick Faldo, Sandy Lyle, Scott Hoch and Ian Woosnam, a golf lesson I had at Wollaton Park Golf Club with the resident professional John Lower, and the highlights of the final round battle in the 1990 Players Championship at Sawgrass between Jodie Mudd and Mark Calcavecchia. I knew this because at one point I knew this video as well as I knew the skin on the back of my own hands, and could mouth along to such commentary from it as “He’s got it teed very high, trying to ride the wind” and “They’ve got airbrakes on those balls these days” as effortlessly as I could mouth along to the entirety of The Smiths’ The Queen Is Dead album a couple of years later.

By March 1990 I already had a bit of a reputation at my home club as “the guy with all the golf videos” and even friends who spent as many waking hours on the course as I did viewed my habit of taping every bit of BBC golf as excessive. They declined a lot of my offers to lend them out, but this particular tape did the rounds through the entire junior section, and beyond. I think it probably got even more wear and tear than the compilation of badly dubbed Swedish porn my friend Bushy had brought into a biology lesson that same spring.

It certainly wasn’t the footage of me alternately grunting intelligibly and propelling 6-iron shots over Wollaton Park’s oblivious practice ground deer that my friends were interested in. What captured their imagination was that Players’ footage. We’re now conditioned to American golf, and to the presentation of American golf, but back then – with the exception of the three majors – it was an untapped, gaudily-coloured, enigmatic universe to boys from the Midlands whose parents couldn’t afford satellite TV. Where for a non-major tournament the BBC would usually just have Alex Hay and Peter Alliss in the commentary box, along with Clive Clark out on the course, NBC seemed to have an army of smooth-voiced men, all with their own nicknames (who could forget Bob “Trumps” Trumpey – not me, even though I knew very little about him!). For the next year, half a dozen of us would imitate these men’s voices during our games, in an attempt to make hitting a ball around a glorified field in Nottinghamshire seem that bit much more glamorous.

I was already obsessed with American golf by this point – even to an extent that my more patriotic friends viewed as a slight betrayal – but I had known of it largely through the Masters, the US Open and the USPGA, the golf magazines I read and the endless golf books I got out of the library. A person can watch the PGA tour every day of the year now, but this 90 minutes of coverage, at the end of the Thatcher era, in the unlikely context of late night ITV, seemed incredibly precious, with its newfangled Epson ticker – a bottom-of-the-screen leaderboard allowing the viewer the previously unthinkable opportunity to the score of every player in the tournament – and its smooth between-action muzak. OK, so I didn’t see any footage of Davis Love – a golfer I’d become excited by after seeing him hit effortlessly pumping drives down a range in an instruction video owned by my friend Ollie – but at one point one of the commentators talked about him, and I remember that fact alone being quite exciting. Of course, it all looks rather quaint, seen from the vantage point of more than two decades on. The muzak is surprisingly gentle compared to the niggling, bombastic and cod heroic instrumental sounds so indelibly associated with 21st-century US golf. Even the Sawgrass layout still looks just a tad raw and adolescent here. Then there are the ad breaks, which invite us to call lines where we can “have a party on the phone with eight strangers!” and buy a mail order compilation of 1960s hits, unavailable in the shops, for £24.99.

Had you offered my friends and me dating sites and iTunes and Spotify and live coverage of the Shell Houston Open at this point, we would have fainted with happiness, but, revisiting this time, it’s easy to see how lack of choice made us appreciate what we did have that much more keenly. You don’t watch it and think, “Ooh, I bet we were unhappier then.” I even tried one to call one of the chat lines, Talkback, and nurtured a small hope that the ghost of a turn-of-the- 1980s woman called Sharon would answer, and talk to me just how she got her hair into such a preposterous halo quiff, while popping balloons and setting of streamers. Sadly, a cold, dehumanised modern voice told me that the number was not recognised.

Perhaps the most rare and quintessentially lost aspect of the Players’ coverage here, however, is the tournament’s winner. I had heard only dimly of the floppy-haired Jodie Mudd before I taped this off ITV, but his swing seemed to have been made in a lab purely for my delectation: an easy hybrid of Fred Couples tempo and low Seve hands that Johnny Miller described in the commentary box and “just a nice turn, turn”. Mudd stays cool as a tall, visor-wearing tartan cucumber during the back nine at Sawgrass, going over the lake and attacking the tough Sunday pin position on the intimidating parthree 17th. His putting stroke is a solid, miniature version of his swing.

“The public are getting a glimpse of one of the future stars of our tour,” the commentator tells us. Sixteen months later, in the Open at Birkdale, Mudd became one of what was then less than 20 men to have shot 63 in a major championship, but by 1996 – the moment just before pro golf’s most immense leap in prize money and technology, the moment just before Tiger Woods – he had retired, buying a horse farm and starting to dabble in real estate. He’s 51 now, entirely bald, and has just come out of retirement to try his hand at the Champions Tour.

If this grainy footage of Sawgrass in 1990 resembles a foreign
country to me, what must it look like to him?

Tom Cox is the author of the golf books Nice Jumper and Bring Me The Head Of Sergio Garcia. www.tom-cox.com

May 2012

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine

 






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