'Modern game in great shape'

'Modern game in great shape'

It’s not usual to have a major tournament named after a person when he is still alive. Bestowed with that honour in 1998, Sir Michael Bonallack, probably the greatest amateur golfer alive today, felt it was a wonderful gesture of appreciation.

“Normally, a tournament is named after you only when you are dead!” gushed the 79-year-old Bonallack during a media interaction here at the Karntaka Golf Association on Monday where he will be witnessing top amateurs from Asia-Pacific slugging it out with Europe in the Ryder Cup-style tournament named after him.

“I know it is a great honour and I’m very happy that it is a team tournament (and not an individual one) because I used to enjoy team golf very much. Those who haven’t played team golf before, will find it very difficult. There is a lot of pressure in team golf, more than what is there in individual golf.

“It’s like any competitive golf tournament but the pressure is a bit higher because every bad shot you hit takes not only you down but other team members as well. They probably don’t play so much foursomes nowadays and it’s a different, but difficult, form of golf,” added the five-time winner of the Amateur Championship and the English Amateur.

Bonallack, known for his unconventional stance, felt a brilliant short game is what kept him going despite his inability to strike the ball long like some of his illustrious contemporaries Seve Ballesteros and Jack Nicklaus. “I suppose when I was playing, Jack Nicklaus was the biggest hitter. He used to hit it to 285 yards but now many can hit past 300 yards. The key to my success was my short game. I didn’t always hit to straight and missed a lot of greens but had a knack around the greens. I holed a lot of putts, and if you keep doing it consistently, you can win anywhere.”

A promising fast bowler who gave up cricket for golf at the age of 22, the World Golf Hall Of Famer termed Jack Nicklaus as the best he’s ever seen. “It’s difficult to pick one (as the greatest ever). However, Jack Nicklaus was the best I've seen. According to me, he’s better than Tiger Woods. He dominated the game for a long time and still holds the record for most number of Major wins (18). He played at a time when (Arnold) Palmer and (Gary) Player were around -- two great players. He had to beat them.

“Woods obviously is also great, possibly the second best in the world of all time. As a striker, Ben Hogan was the best I've seen. But his putting wasn’t too good. But he still won all the Majors without being able to putt. So that says a lot about the other aspects of his game. Secretary of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews — which runs The Open Championship and sets the rules of the game in partnership with the United States Golf Association — from 1984 to 1999, Bonallack opined the modern game is in great shape. “Seeing the number of young players who are coming through now and how many good young players have the opportunity to play golf which they didn’t have before, it just shows the game is doing really well. The number of golf courses have grown and that gives people more chance to play. The number of countries golf is played in now is also large.

There are golf development schemes which are giving opportunity to boys and girls to play the game, it is one of the encouraging signs in golf,” added Bonallack, whose wife Angela is a two-time English Championship winner.

Bonallack complemented the Asian women for making rapid strides on the LPGA and said the men were slowly realising their potential. “Asian women have certainly dominated the LPGA Tour and the men are catching up now. They were behind the women but they are slowly rising. The Japanese have some good players like Ryo Ishikawa.”

The Michael Bonallack Trophy will be played from March 26 to 28.

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