By Iain Carter
As journalists we are not supposed to be cheerleaders. Few things are more frowned upon than applause breaking out during a news conference. Our job is to pick holes and highlight what is wrong, cast a critical eye and hold the authorities to account. But reflecting on a whirlwind month of international golf, I feel the need to adopt the role of the enthusiast, the fan with the laptop, the guy who feels fortunate to have enjoyed first hand an outstanding period for the game.
Back in June I wasn’t the biggest supporter of the US Open at Erin Hills. The course was too long, it was golf on steroids – too far removed from the kind of game I love to play. Give me a layout where you quickly access the next tee by exiting the previous green, not the Erin Hills scenario where there was an extra mile added to the walk to access the tournament tees.
That is way too many backward steps for my liking and although Tommy Fleetwood gave us hope of British success it was one of the less memorable of majors. Thankfully, thereafter the summer was sensational.
Royal Birkdale is probably the best golf course in England and it produced a fantastic Open Championship, brimful of drama and superb champion in Jordan Spieth.
Commentating for BBC 5Live I saw most of his triumph first hand – his chip-in par at the tenth as the Friday heavens opened, having escaped a plugged line in a fairway bunker told me all I needed to know about the Texan’s astonishing resilience.
The way he recovered from his ragged start to the final round provided yet more evidence before that blistering finish when he went birdie, eagle, birdie, birdie from the fourteenth tee.
And before that came all the shenanigans on the thirteenth where Spieth needed to take a drop on the practice ground after his extraordinarily wayward tee shot.
We always try to be in the right place at the right time for these occasions. This time it was impossible and I was stranded on the wrong side of the fairway, the wrong side of the colossal dunes separating the player from hole he was supposed to be playing.
Then came the surreal process of commentating by relaying information being fed into my ears by my editor watching the action on television. Somehow we got through it – more significantly, somehow Spieth got through the hole dropping just a single shot.
That was the turning point that helped him deny Matt Kuchar a first major title and it was watched by enormous crowds that brought a palpable buzz to the occasion.
Walking down the eighteenth with the final pair, was one of those occasions where I reminded myself just how fortunate I am to do my job.
There were similar sentiments by the end of the US PGA Championship at Quail Hollow – which surprised me because it took a while to be won over by the North Carolina course.
Indeed, the third round on that brutally difficult track was pretty dire fare. The leaderboard lacked inspiration, the golf took way too long to complete and there was a sense of dread heading into the final round.
Yet the last day of men’s major action in 2017 turned into a wonderful spectacle with Spieth’s big pal Justin Thomas surging to a memorable victory with audacious par-3 birdies on the thirteenth (chip in) and seventeenth holes.
Thomas’s victory made it three American wins on the spin after Brooks Koepka set the tone with his US Open triumph.
And the Stars and Stripes flew again in emphatic style the following week at the Solheim Cup.
It was a week where the result was in little doubt from the moment the Americans steamrollered through the Friday afternoon fourballs in Des Moines, Iowa. Again the galleries were sizable and again the golf was brilliant. Europe threw everything at an unlikely fightback and somehow the home side resisted.
On the Saturday afternoon the visitors mustered 35 birdies and an eagle, yet they lost the session 3-1.
Lexi Thompson and Anna Nordqvist shared a half in the top singles match with Thompson coming from four down at the turn. The Swede, despite battling the debilitating effects of glandular fever, needed a brilliant birdie at the last to force a half and duly delivered.
It was one of the greatest singles matches ever played.
Even without any great jeopardy over the final outcome, the Solheim served up sensational golf that elevated the women’s game to another level.
Now is the time to capitalise and if the authorities fail in that mission the media will be there to hold them to the account. Right now, though, it is time to give the golfers a rare but thoroughly deserved ovation.