Scottish Amateur Ronnie puts all-comers in Shade

Norman Mair sees holder win Scottish Amateur for fifth time in a row
Ronnie Shade sealed victory with a purposeful afternoon round. Picture: TSPLRonnie Shade sealed victory with a purposeful afternoon round. Picture: TSPL
Ronnie Shade sealed victory with a purposeful afternoon round. Picture: TSPL

Ronnie Shade’s post-final procedure, up to and including his acceptance of the cup for the Scottish amateur Championship, is fast becoming as mechanically repetitive as the Shade swing. The feeling of having been there before was strong upon one as Shade stepped into the title role at the prizegiving for the fifth year in succession, Alan Murphy, of South Herts, for all his tenacity and recuperative facility, having gone the way of all flesh since 1963.

The broad story of the final is soon told. The holder was out in 37 against an opponent who, the gallery told each other in white-faced whispers, had twice shanked.

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So contagious and virulent a disease is the shank still held to be that, at the mere mention of the word, hardened tournament professionals are apt to vanish in a puff of smoke; while, even among the rank and file of handicap golfers, there are some who shank should be made to wear a bell as was once the way with lepers.

It was a much more purposeful Shade in the afternoon. A 15-footer submerged obligingly for a birdie at the 19th while, at the 20th, Murphy put his second in a bunker, was still there in three and over the green in four.

Murphy was now grinding against a shank on every iron; yet two down on the 14th tee, having clawed his tee shot left at the short 13th, the former British Boys’ champion lunched all square, despite missing from six feet on the home green. His technique may currently be bizarre, but there is nothing wrong with his courage or golfing philosophy.

Though the challenger captured, with a splendid, if possibly superfluous three, the 28th – where the shot to the green asked for exactly his shape, a draw – he bade farewell at the 32nd, Shade’s pitch sinking, slow and chill, to rest beside the hole to epitomise the story of the championship. Shade’s art and craft in the vicinity of the green throughout the championship had belonged to voodoo.

All week, for the first time this season in individual events, Shade had seemed interested – even to the extent of being riled at the fact that the championship was being played off the medal tees rather than the Open championship tees, which militate against the lesser player. Round in 74 on Saturday morning, he needed regulation figures over the last four holes for a second-round 72. He was but three over par for a championship by no means entirely bereft of wind.

He uncorked some remarkably long tee shots against Bernard Gallacher, but, in general, his woods and long and medium irons were no more than – as he put it himself – “good enough”, his irons, for example, despite his reverting to a set with a more suitable stiffness of shaft, no longer falling down the flag with the inevitability of yore.

It was principally his pitching and chipping – the reverse of wristy – which carried him through; the rhythm and precision of his striking giving meaning to his inherent judgment of distance and roll. He knew what he was doing when he concentrated his practice on his short game.

Shade also putted well, especially after discerning that he had been taking the putter away too much on the inside; yet he remains a touch vulnerable from two feet out to four. His ability to raise his game in a crisis is legend while, as he says himself, he tends to play his best golf from July onwards.

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Though Murphy ultimately lost by the relatively wide margin of 5 and 4, the week was a triumph for a man who is now primarily a weekend golfer – but a triumph of temperament rather than technique.

His present method, with the stance of a man driving to extra cover, is a mass of contradiction and compensation, brought about by playing so little golf and given point only by a rare amalgam of eye, timing and sheer savvy.

Encouraged by his success at Carnoustie, Murphy – whose diffident deportment, coupled with his astonishing resilience in the face of adversity, endeared him to the vast gallery – intends to remodel his swing at the first opportunity.

Dave Marr once remarked after being paired with Hogan at Augusta: “Ben plays one game and the rest of us play another.” It is a sentiment which Murphy and his fellow competitors could be excused for applying to Ronnie Shade.