Interview: Sam Torrance, golfer
It WAS one of the longest-standing ovations I can remember. A room crammed full of golfing enthusiasts had risen to salute one of Scotland’s favourite sporting sons.
But it wasn’t Sandy Lyle, the home of golf’s two-time major winner, earning the acclaim. Nor Colin Montgomerie, the eight-time European Tour No 1 and a Ryder Cup legend. This was Sam Torrance’s night in Glasgow – he was being presented with a lifetime achievement award at the glitzy Scottish Golf Dinner – and it confirmed to this correspondent why the man from Largs had often been described as a “people’s champion”.
Winning 32 titles (on the European Tour and European Senior Tour) around the world is something to be proud of. So, too, is holing the winning putt in a Ryder Cup then returning to that same venue – The Belfry – to captain a European team to victory in the biennial event against the USA. But, to come home to Scotland and receive confirmation that you hold a special place in the hearts of the most knowledgeable golfing fans on the planet is surely as good as it gets.
Even better when your nearest and dearest are there, too. In the room that night was the full Torrance clan. His proud parents, June and Bob. His actress wife, Suzanne, and their kids, Daniel, Phoebe and Anouska. “That was magnificent,” admits Torrance. “It was such a great night and to have my whole family there, my mum and dad, wife and children and even uncles, was tremendous. It was a moving occasion for me, that’s for sure.”
Torrance turns 60 next year. His best golfing days are behind him, though he’d love one last hurrah in the Senior British Open when it is staged at Turnberry – one of his favourite venues and, of course, in his native Ayrshire, in three weeks’ time.
He is past the stage of asking for an invitation to the Scottish Open and last played in the Open Championship in 2000, having previously enjoyed an unbroken run of 27 successive appearances in the world’s oldest major (his best finish being fifth behind American Bill Rogers at Sandwich in 1981).
He still talks a good game, though. Indeed, when you listen to Torrance air his opinions on a variety of topics – not just golf as the Celtic supporter was happy to offer his view on the Rangers crisis – it leaves you shaking your head in disbelief that the BBC lost Sam from their golf team last year after they decided not to take him to The Masters on “economic grounds”. It meant his dulcet tones and that cheeky chuckle were missing at Royal St George’s and they will be missing again at Royal Lytham in a fortnight’s time.
“I really enjoy that [commentating on golf] and I do miss it,” he says. “I’ve done a few for the worldwide feed for European Tour Productions, the World Match Play in Spain and the last couple of days at Wentworth, for instance. I’m also doing the Ryder Cup for them. Maybe I might get back into doing that a bit more somewhere down the line. I would certainly enjoy that.”
In terms of golf courses he has played in recent years, none has proved more enjoyable for Torrance than Castle Stuart, which hosts the Scottish Open for a second time next week, though, on this occasion, it’s under the Aberdeen Asset Management banner after it took over the sponsorship of one of the European Tour’s flagship events from Barclays.
Luke Donald, the world No 1, is heading back to Inverness to defend his title and Torrance is licking his lips at the prospect of the European Tour staging an event on a links course for the second time in three weeks following the successful staging of the Irish Open in front of huge crowds at Royal Portrush.
“I’ve always loved links golf and, in particular, the variety of the challenge it provides and the shots you have to play,” comments Sam, who is enjoying a new role this year, as Caledonia Best Clubhouse captain. “I think if you had to play it week in, week out then your swing would go through the mill. But I like to see it in the build-up to The Open and the whole concept of having the four Irish major winners [Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke] at a course as historic as Portrush was a great idea.
“And, of course, the Irish are great golf fans, as we discovered with the Ryder Cup at The K Club [in 2006]. They know how to make an event go with a bang and it was what golf was all about.
“Now we’ve got another exciting week coming up with the Scottish Open and the course at Castle Stuart is just magnificent. They were so unlucky with the landslide last year [that wiped out a day’s play and forced the event to be cut to 54 holes]. I was there a month before the Scottish Open and I can’t remember being more impressed by a golf course that I was seeing for the first time. I think they need to tighten up the fairways a bit, which I’m sure they’ve done, as a 19-under total that Luke Donald won with is low, though I don’t mind that.
“It’s a well-laid out course and one of the things I like about it is that it goes in all different directions. They have used the land so well. In fact, it is right up there among my favourites and I’ve only been there a couple of times. I know that a lot of people were in contention for a while in the final round last year, but, in the end, look who came out on top – the world No 1. I think that spoke volumes for the course.”
While Donald is defending his crown, Lee Westwood, the world No 3, has dropped the event from his schedule this year and second-ranked Rory McIlroy is giving it a miss for the second season running. “It’s the week before The Open and some of the top players in the world will have their eyes on winning that,” notes Torrance of those high-profile absentees. “Two weeks out of three on links courses might not necessarily suit some people. If it is extremely windy up at Inverness, for instance, that may not be the right preparation for some of them. I’m not condoning what they are doing, I’m just saying what they might be thinking.
“I loved playing in the Scottish Open – just loved it. But I’m way beyond that [asking for a sponsor’s invitation]. Ten years beyond it, in fact. I had wonderful times in the Scottish Open. But for me it wasn’t a warm-up for The Open. The Scottish Open stood on its own in my eyes. It was one I’d dearly have loved to have won.
“I’m sure Paul Lawrie thinks exactly the same and what a chance he’s got to win the way he’s been playing this year. If I was Paul I wouldn’t even be thinking about the Ryder Cup. If he keeps playing the way he has been then it will all come for him. Everything will fall into place. I’ve never seen him swing better and his putting stroke is as good as it’s ever been. He’s a great chipper and is also a great wind player – those are some attributes.”
As soon as the winning putt drops at Castle Stuart, the focus will switch to Royal Lytham as it stages the Open Championship for the first time since David Duval claimed the Claret Jug on the Lancashire links in 2002. With Tiger Woods heading across the Atlantic on the back of his third PGA Tour triumph – in the AT&T event at Congressional last weekend – he’s the man Torrance is tipping to come out on top this time, though he reckons Westwood and McIlroy can also be in the mix, even though the latter claimed he didn’t have the game to win on a links course these days after he’d slumped to a disappointing final round at Royal St George’s last year.
“Jesus, what do you think?” replies Torrance when asked if he felt Woods will be arriving at Lytham with a spring in his step to launch his latest bid to finally move off the 14-major mark and kick-start his challenge to overtake Jack Nicklaus, with his 18 titles.
“Absolutely. In his three wins this year he has been magnificent. What surprised me about the commentary last Sunday night was that this was Congressional, a major championship course. It wasn’t winning a major, but it was recording a win on a major course. Put it this way: he’d be top of my list for Lytham.
“At Hoylake [in the 2006 Open], he won on a course that played nearly 8,500 yards long for him due to the fact he played irons off the tee. He played that course like a chess board and he did it magnificently. I think he’ll do the same at Lytham. It’s not an aggressive golf course. It’s not one of these courses that you can overpower. It’s a beautifully constructed links course and I think he’ll enjoy plotting his way around there.
“As for Rory, I’m sure he regretted what he said at Royal St George’s because deep down I’m sure he knows that isn’t true. What he will be doing for Lytham is working hard on keeping his ball flight down a bit as he knocks it straight up in the air. Having missed a few cuts lately he’s not going to be brimming with confidence. He’s not going to like the limelight either. But he’s young and strong and with that swing I certainly won’t be bothered. The fact he won the Lytham Trophy as an amateur is a good indicator how he might do.
“Then there’s Lee. There aren’t many who strike the ball as consistently as he does. He’s a magnificent player and is right up there among those who are capable of winning at Lytham. I think links chipping suits him. He’s got a great touch and feel for the soft shots you need on a links course. You get a crisp strike on chips over here and I think that suits him better. [Jack] Nicklaus was never a great bunker player, but only relatively to the rest of his game and I don’t like hearing people harping on about Westwood’s chipping because I think it’s not a major problem at all. In comparison to the rest of his game it might be weak, but that’s only because his driving is so strong. I’m just wondering if he’ll be able to use his driver a lot round there as the rough will probably be penal.”
With the R&A having taken action against one culprit in the recent Amateur Championship at Royal Troon, slow play will be on the agenda at Lytham. So, too, will belly putters, though only as part of a review of their use as the R&A and USGA decide whether or not to take any action on them. As someone who has used a long putter for many a moon now, Torrance accepts his tuppence worth on the subject may be viewed as hypocritical, but it doesn’t stop him offering an opinion. He also has strong views on the slow play issue.
“It’s the belly putter, not the long putter, that’s won two of the last three majors [Keegan Bradley in last year’s USPGA Championship and Webb Simpson in the US Open last month],” he comments. “The long putter is more difficult when it is windy and it’s never been great for me in those conditions. The belly putter is more solid as it is lodged into your tummy. I’m in such a tricky position having almost pioneered the long putter. Mine was originated on the chin and it’s now somewhere between the chin and the chest. It has never been lodged anywhere. The belly putter, as they say, is anchored. I’m not 100 per cent behind the use of belly putters. I might be hypocritical in saying that, but I think it is a different method to long putters. I think the R&A and the USGA will be looking at it and I also think they should be.
“As for slow play, being one of the quickest players on Tour for 40 years I’m delighted they seem to be looking into that at the moment. I was sad that Ross Fisher got the shot penalty in the Welsh Open, but maybe that set an example and now they need to continue on from that.
“They’ve always advocated that a shot penalty is more hurtful than £20,000 fines. The money these boys earn, that doesn’t hurt. But, if you go from being one shot behind in a tournament to two or possibly three shots behind with five holes to go, it’s a hell of a difference – you’re going to speed up your play. What we need to be doing is trying to make it more enjoyable for everyone, including the spectators and the players themselves. There’s a total minority when it comes to slow play, but they are spoiling it for the rest of them.”
For many in the room that night in Glasgow, it’s likely that one of their favourite golfing memories is the sight of Torrance standing on the 18th green at The Belfry with his arms raised in celebration, the man from Largs having just holed the winning putt in the 1985 Ryder Cup – the first time the Americans had tasted defeat in the match in 28 years. In the 12 encounters since then, Europe have won another seven times, including a 2002 triumph at The Belfry with Torrance at the helm, and will be bidding to hang on to the trophy at Medinah in September.
“I keep an eye on rankings and I think both teams are shaping up well,” observes Torrance. “You should never underestimate the Americans as they are always going to be tough to beat, especially on their home patch. They’ve got a great young team building up. It’s the next generation and it’s looking strong. I think Jason Dufner is great – I just love his game – and Webb Simpson, too. Tiger, of course, is also looking good at the moment. Europe still have the top three in the world, but I wouldn’t put anyone down as favourites at the moment.”
Colin Montgomerie, the winning captain at Celtic Manor last time out, will become the latest big name to join the over-50s ranks in a year’s time. “I see he’s already planning to win a senior Grand Slam,” says Torrance.
“I think it’s fantastic that he’s thinking that way. To me, he always used to say he’d never play senior golf, but it’s all down to enthusiasm. But the one thing he’ll get is a fright at how good these guys are at 50. You think this might be easy, but just look at Tom Watson almost winning The Open at 59 at Turnberry. However, it is great for golf that Monty is thinking that way.”
Away from the golf course, Torrance has enjoyed nothing more than attending the occasional Old Firm game and is wondering when he’ll get the chance to savour that unique atmosphere again. “I’m a Celtic supporter, but it is very sad what is happening to Rangers,” he says. “It would be so bad for Scottish football if they were put down two divisions. You have to look to the future of the Scottish game. Is it the players’ fault? No. Is it the supporters’ fault? No. Then why should they be the ones to suffer? Common sense should prevail.”
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east