Yes, the field for the DP World Tour’s Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucía Masters at Valderrama wasn’t nearly as strong as it deserves to be for a €3 million event being played at one of the iconic venues in European golf, even if the Cadiz course may not be loved by some in terms of the test.
And, yes, it does stick in the throat slightly that it was won by someone who broke the circuit’s regulations by playing in a LIV Golf event without receiving an official release and was subsequently suspended from the Genesis Scottish Open but was among those who got a temporary injunction that allowed them to tee up at The Renaissance Club in July and have a lawsuit pending.
Adrian Otaegui has actually played in three LIV Golf events, but let’s give credit where it is due because his performance at Valderrama was one of the most impressive this year on any circuit around the world and, no matter what nationality you are, nothing beats winning on home soil, especially the first time.
Yes, of course, it was an awkward situation for the DP World Tour due to the fact it is effectively being sued by Otaegui among others, but, at the same time, the Spanish fans were happy and the title sponsor had a couple of reasons to feel boxes ended up being ticked.
Money may have been the main topic of conversation in golf since the Saudis started splashing cash, but, for the vast majority of professionals in the game, the goal remains the same: racking up enough points to either make a step up or retain a seat at the same table for another year.
Another Spaniard, Angel Hidalgo, went into the Valderrama event sitting 130th in the DP World Tour Rankings and running out of time in his bid to climb above the card cut-off line, but, thanks to finishing fourth at the end of a week when the Malaga man put his heart and soul into every single shot, it’s now job done.
“I have been crying since the 16th green,” he admitted of his achievement, something that will be repeated by a few others in the final few weeks of the season and, torturous as it may be for those involved, is part of golf’s beauty because, at the end of the day, it comes down to an individual having to handle proper pressure and paying a costly price if they can’t handle it.
“I've been fighting to play here for 20 years and the first years as a pro were tough. Last year I played half the season on the Challenge Tour and I was one shot away from getting the tour card. It has been a series of moments, circumstances, a lot of work and we have finally achieved it.”
Hidalgo’s week is what golf is all about, players trying to climb the ladder making the most of an opportunity and that will always be provided on this side of the Atlantic by the Challenge Tour initially then the DP World Tour.
Yes, those successful will then be lured by the PGA Tour, but let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that’s any different from the past 20 years or so and, in any case, there is always going to be new talent coming through, especially in countries like Finland, Norway, Denmark and, hopefully, Scotland, too.
The great thing about golf, of course, is that it’s a game for life and hats off to both Paul Lawrie and Fred Couples for also playing their part in helping put smiles on faces at a time when it can be easy to feel depressed about some of the ongoing shenanigans.
Lawrie has pulled off some brilliant wins in his glittering career and none more so than when he overturned a 10-shot deficit heading into the final round to win the 1999 Open at Carnoustie. In comparison, coming from five back overnight to triumph in the Farmfoods European Senior Masters at La Manga might not seem too impressive, but it was probably equally satisfying for the Aberdonian.
He’s now 53 and hasn’t played too much competitive golf this season, but it was vintage Lawrie as he carded an eagle and six birdies to close with a bogey-free 65 then birdied the first extra hole in a play-off. Terrific stuff and it’s brilliant to see the two-time Ryder Cup player continuing to show his class as a player at a time when is among numerous Scottish professionals being coached by Alan McCloskey.
And what about Couples? The 63-year-old beat his age by three shots with a remarkable closing effort to win the SAS Championship in North Carolina by a resounding six strokes, claiming a 14th Champions Tour title triumph and first since 2017. “It’s easy to say because we’re standing here, but I think it’s the best round I’ve ever played,” said Couples of an effort that contained 12 birdies, including seven on the spin to finish.
There will be more of those ugly social media spats, no doubt, and that won’t be good for the game, but let’s not lose sight of what makes golf such a great game and, having had his injury issues, Brooks Koepka should also be applauded for his weekend win in the latest LIV Golf event. It might not seem like it at times just now, but golf in general will always have that capacity to put smiles on faces and, if you don’t believe me, then feel free to ask Senor Hidalgo!