Wasn’t it fantastic to see Valderrama, venue for the 1997 Ryder Cup and long-time host of the season-ending Volvo Masters, back on the European Tour as it staged a Spanish Open that had Sergio Garcia’s name attached to it?
Strangely enough, it was the first time that it had played host to that particular event but here’s hoping that this excellent venue in southern Spain is back on the schedule for a good few years to come.
Golf needs its top venues to be in the spotlight, even if it is one that provided one of the toughest tests witnessed for a regular European Tour event for as long as this correspondent can recall.
Needless to say, it left some of the players squealing that it was “too difficult” and, admittedly, the event was played in testing conditions from start to finish on a course that is quite exposed in parts. In hindsight, the tournament officials may admit that the rough around the greens was perhaps a little thicker than it needed to be, but maybe that was down to Mother Nature’s hand.
Top-level golf, however, can’t just be a diet of events being played on courses that are taken apart, something that has undoubtedly become prevalent in this era of monster hitting. Every now and again, we need a test like the one they faced at Valderrama, where England’s Andrew Johnston coped best with the examination to land his maiden European Tour victory.
Sure, it is rare for a winner at this level to finish above par. It’s what we are used to seeing in the US Open, but not in the bread-and-butter events. But so what?
I’m not saying it’s what we want to see every week. There’s no doubt that golf fans want to watch players making eagles and birdies rather than battling to save par at every hole.
It doesn’t do any harm, though, to mix things up and there will be players in the Spanish Open who will look back on it as a useful character-building exercise.
It was no surprise to see Garcia and Martin Kaymer to the fore once the final putt had dropped. Both are proper players. They can shape shots to manoeuvre themselves around a course like this. Can the majority of those who hold European Tour cards these days? That’s probably debatable.
Thomas Bjorn, one of the most experienced campaigners on that circuit these days, left Valderrama singing its praises, not whingeing that it was too difficult. Those in that camp should be heading back there the next time better prepared for this particular test and not expecting it to be one of the pushovers they encounter every now and again.
It was a similar story on the domestic front at the weekend. After being broken in gently at Leven Links and Craigmillar Park, Scotland’s top amateurs found it tough going at Crail in the Battle Trophy.
The winning aggregate there was also over par – Craigielaw’s Grant Forrest came out on top in a play-off – and there’s no doubt this particular Scottish Golf Order of Merit event is one of the toughest on the calendar. That’s great because next up for Forrest, Connor Syme, Ewen Ferguson and Robert MacIntyre is the Lytham Trophy, which provides a similarly difficult test and, therefore, a different mental attitude is required.
It becomes more about keeping big numbers off the card than making birdies. In the immediate aftermath of Danny Willett’s Masters win, it was being pointed out on US television that the Englishman’s birdie tally had been the lowest since Jose Maria Olazabal’s second victory at Augusta National in 1999. That may well have been true but Willett is now a very proud owner of a Green Jacket because he kept a double-bogey off his card over four days, something that Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Rory McIlroy failed to achieve.
Not for one minute am I suggesting the fun should be sucked out of golf. The sport simply can’t afford that to happen.
There’s nothing wrong, though, with seeing the game’s top players being faced with different types of tests, so here’s hoping that the European Tour circus rolls back into Valderrama next season.