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The pressures of the matchplay final...

... the 18-hole finish

Posted Feb 22, 2011 by Dermot Gilleece

Joe Carr - Irish Golfer

It was only when he was in Hawaii last month for the Hyundai Tournament of Champions that Ian Poulter discovered the change in format to this week’s Accenture Matchplay Championship.  And as the defending champion, the idea of the final being changed from 36 to 18 holes didn’t seem of any real consequence.

"As long as you're up by the 18th, you're all good, right?" said Poulter, who beat fellow Englishman, Paul Casey, by 4 and 2 over twice that distance 12 months ago.  "It doesn't matter. Sometimes 36 holes on the last day can drag a little. I think it kind of flows better having 18 holes through the week and then in the final as well."

I found Poulter's comments to be especially interesting against a background of professionals constantly describing 18-hole matchplay as a sprint in which anything can happen.  Listening to those sorts of comments raises the suspicion that certain players might be using this to quietly get their excuses in first. Dominant competitors, on the other hand, seem to have the capacity to impose themselves on matchplay situations, thereby reducing the possibility of an upset.

In the amateur game on this side of the Atlantic, nobody did it better than the great Irishman, Joe Carr, who won a total of 28 matchplay championships in a sparkling career covering the 1940s, '50s and '60s.  In lengthy chats we had about man-to-man combat, the most important thing, as far as Joe was concerned, was to ensure that he stood where his opponent could see him, whatever the circumstances. In a quirky way, he wanted the other man to know he was there; that he wouldn't miraculously disappear no matter how desirable that might be.  Despite his considerable success, however, he was always conscious of the dangers inherent in shorter matches. "It's very easy to get caught over 18 holes," he said.  "The match is over too quickly.  I have always held the view that against a better player, you'll never get out over 36 holes.  With 18, a few missed putts and a few holed ones can turn a match." 

He went on: 
"I never played well unless I was nervous. Normally after the morning round of a championship, I would come in, have a quick lunch and then get into the car and have a bit of a snooze.  And before the next match, I would be out to have a few putts before heading for the first tee. But I remember an Amateur Championship when, as I arrived out for my afternoon match, my prospective opponent was still on the course, playing the sixth or seventh tie hole.  It meant I was there for an hour waiting for him and the upshot was that when he eventually arrived, I was in absolute bits.  I didn't know what was going on.  All my carefully-laid plans had been scuppered. Yet I started with six threes in the first seven holes and demolished him 7 and 6, which I can attribute only to concentration and nervous energy. You've got to be keyed up to play competitive golf.  As for having a fear of failure:  I had escaped so many times that I always felt there was a way out, no matter how bad things might appear."

Supreme self-confidence was never more in evidence than in his approach to the Amateur Championship at St Andrews in 1958. "With all the practice shots I hit by way of preparation, I almost wore through the blades of my eight and nine irons," he said.  Eventually, when the time came for him to set off from his home in Sutton, Dublin, he turned to his heavily pregnant wife and promised to ring her mid-way through the 36-hole final the following Saturday. With all the work he had done, he couldn’t see himself losing.  Nor did he.

Joe's second-youngest child, Gerald Andrew Carr (Gerald after Joe's great friend, Gerald Micklem, and Andrew after his favourite venue), Gerry for short, was due that week but, with considerate timing, didn't arrive until after the champion had returned home. 

As a fascinating aside, Joe's progress towards a 3 and 2 victory over England's Alan Thirlwell in the final was monitored in a decidedly curious manner by two Irish scribes, who aroused quite a deal of interest by waving white handkerchiefs at their hero during the climactic stage of the match.  It was only when it was over and they were contributing handsomely to the celebrations, that Joe learned the truth of their apparent signals of surrender. It seems they had backed him and with a view to collecting their winnings before the local bookmakers closed, one of them ran ahead of the match and was waiting, strategically on Grannie Clark's Wynd when his accomplice raised his white handkerchief.   The signal confirmed that there was, indeed, an Irish triumph and that the winnings could be collected post-haste.

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