How Alistair Forbes sank his finest putts and buried my hopes

2009-05-01 00:00

MANY years ago, my late father-in-law, who fancied himself as something of a connoisseur in all matters golf, saw a young golfer make just two swings with a driver. He averred then that the young man, Alistair Forbes, possessed the finest swing he had ever seen. My father-in-law was not a man given to hyperbole and he was disappointed that Forbes went on to devote himself to that most amateur of sports, hockey, in which he became a Springbok of distinction. Golf, however, has always remained a great love of Forbes and a sport at which he has built himself a considerable reputation in the circles in which he plays.

He has twice won the Pilsner/SuperSport shindig, which brings together well- known retired sportsmen of various disciplines in a weekend of golf at one of the country’s major golfing resorts. Last week, however, Forbes, produced the finest round of golf in the history of the Seniors’ Golfing Society of South Africa.

At the society’s national championships in Port Elizabeth, Forbes opened his tournament with a 72 at the PE Club. This gave him a three-stroke lead over yours truly, who had vague dreams of adding another Seniors’ title to the three I surreptitiously and fortuitously gathered in recent years.

Playing with Forbes in the final round at Humewood, I was soon disabused of any such hopes.

Forbes birdied the first hole at which I was lucky to drop just one stroke, which increased my deficit to five strokes. From my perspective things went from bad to worse. I limped home with a scrappy 79, but my own golf became immaterial in the scheme of things as Forbes produced a round the like of which I have not seen before at such close quarters.

Playing flawlessly from tee to green he never looked like dropping a shot and made eight birdies to sign off with a remarkable 64. His winning total of 136 was 16 strokes ahead of the runner-up and five strokes better than the previous record of 141 held by Comrie du Toit, the former Springbok amateur and professional golfer. Had it not been for a couple of putts that just slid past the hole on greens that were generally well below the standard that Humewood sets for itself, Forbes would have been one of the youngest golfers to have shot his age.

Those golfers who know Humewood, which is arguably the finest true links course in the country, will be thinking that conditions must have been benign for Forbes to have scored so well.

I can testify that we played throughout in a stiffish easterly breeze that provided a good test of shot-making, particularly for those of us from inland courses. Coming, as he does, from Durban, Forbes is used to playing in winds of varying strength and clearly had no problem with the conditions.

It was my observation that he “missed” just one shot. Hitting into the wind on the short par-three 12th, Forbes thinned a six iron, but it went low and straight for the back of the green where it finished three feet from the pin. He duly sank the putt for his eighth and last birdie.

Otherwise every stroke he made came off the centre of his club.

It all left one wondering what might have been had Forbes decided to play golf instead of hockey, but at least the ghost of my father-in-law will have felt a glow of satisfaction with the brilliant golf played by Forbes at Humewood. Forbes, incidentally, is president of the Princes Grant club on the north coast and a member of the Durban Country Club. He is also a member of the Royal and Ancient Club of St Andrews and all South African members of that famous club will be hoping that he will soon bring back the famous Queen Victoria medal that is awarded to winners of the Jubilee Vase at the club’s annual autumn meeting.

On another tack entirely, this is my last column for The Witness. After nine years, almost to the day, the party is over for me. The recession that has hit the print media all over the world has claimed another victim. This week I received the sad news that the paper can no longer afford the modest cost of my contributions. It has not only been a privilege to have been able to write a weekly column for one of the country’s oldest newspapers, but it has also been tremendous fun. I am grateful to The Witness for publishing my politically incorrect and anti-establishment pieces for so long and with scarcely more than a few words of editing. I am also deeply appreciative of all those who have taken the trouble to tell me that they have enjoyed my efforts.

•Ray White is a former UCB president. Weekend Witness thanks Ray for his contribution writing incisive and informative columns for the Talking Sport page for the last nine years.

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