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Celebrity Golf Penalty Kicks

Dermot Gilleece asks some top golfers who they'd pick

Posted Nov 21, 2011 by Dermot Gilleece


With team-events dominating the international golfing scene right now, the pressure of playing for one’s colleagues is thrown sharply into focus.  Mind you, it didn’t seem to reach crippling proportions in the President’s Cup at Royal Melbourne, where the exchanges seemed decidedly good-natured.  Things could be decidedly different, however, when this week’s World Cup heads to a climax at Mission Hills, China.   

Because of its nature as essentially a solitary pursuit, it’s difficult to equate the pressures of golf with popular team games such as soccer or rugby.  How, for instance, would a top-class golfer respond to the pressure which Ronan O’Gara seemed to gratefully embrace when landing last-minute, winning drop-goals for Munster in recent Heineken Cup matches?  Or can facing a penalty shoot-out for a major, soccer championship be compared with a short putt on the 72nd for one of golf's top prizes?

In both circumstances, the level of expectation is probably excessively high, with everything hinging on the player's composure under extreme pressure.  Though there are no goalkeepers in golf, the slightest imperfection on the line of a putt could be ruinous.  Either way, it got me wondering about the five-man line-up which certain leading golfers would choose from their own craft, if they had charge of an imaginary Soccer World Cup shoot-out.  The responses were fascinating.

Darren Clarke, who had the luxury of a leisurely stroll down the 72nd hole en route to an Open triumph at Royal St George’s last July, looked to an old rival at the peak of his powers. "Tiger Woods, Tiger Woods, Tiger Woods, Tiger Woods, Tiger Woods,” he said.  “At the top of his game, I'd have Tiger take them all."

But Clarke’s Ryder Cup partner, Lee Westwood, gave the matter much more lengthy consideration.  "Tiger (at his best) would definitely take the first one," he said.  "Then I'd have Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Jack Nicklaus and myself.
Michael Campbell, surprise winner of the 2005 US Open at Pinehurst No 2 was next.  "Tiger at number one," he said.  "Then myself and Paul McGinley - I think he's got that bull-dog toughness.  After that, I’d have Retief Goosen and Ernie Els at top, Major championship form."

Padraig Harrington, winner of three Major championships, also had McGinley among his quintet.  Interestingly, Harrington insisted his five would all be Europeans. "I don't want to be picking Tiger," he said.  And while figuring things out in his mind, he muttered: "I'm thinking of putts, here."   Finally, he decided:  "Myself, Thomas Bjorn, Westwood, McGinley and Miguel Angel Jimenez."

By way of contrast, I turned to veteran tour caddie, Dave Musgrove, who cast a much wider net.  "Lee Trevino would be an obvious choice for the first penalty, because he'd bamboozle the goalkeeper by talking him to death," he said.  "Then I'd have my old employer from our Major-winning days, Sandy Lyle.  Tom Watson would be next, because he wouldn't be afraid to pull the trigger, right at the end.  Peter Thomson - no thrills, no spills - who never had any call on managers, trainers or psychologists, would be my fourth.  And I'd have Nick Faldo as my fifth, because you could be sure he'd be absolutely focused."

Despite their footballers’ failures, Argentinian pride was very much in evidence in the choices of Eduardo Romero. He chose fellow countryman, Angel Cabrera, at number one followed by Woods, John Daly, Clarke and Campbell, in that order.

Finally, I turned to Ireland’s admirably consistent practitioner, Peter Lawrie, whose list was especially interesting, for being the only one to include Seve Ballesteros, who would certainly be in my line-up.  Lawrie's five were:  Ballesteros, Greg Norman, Arnold Palmer - "because he'd slash it out of the 'keeper's reach" - Langer - "as the tactician" - and Harrington, “who would get the job done in his own, unorthodox way."

So there you have it.  My five?   At the peak of their powers, I'd pick Nicklaus, Woods, Ballesteros, Langer and Faldo.

- Dermot Gilleece

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