12 Jun 2014

Pitch and putt: why golf is better than football

It is the greatest sport in the world, and after a year of intense preparation and anticipation it has finally arrived. That’s right, golf’s US Open kicks off today.

Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy (Getty)

Four nail-biting rounds of major championship golf featuring all the tantalising drama, meltdowns, memories, heartache, last-day gallops and shock victories, writes Hayley Barlow.

Forget the World Cup frenzy, it’s US Open fever gripping the Channel 4 News communications department as the world’s best players take on the sand hills of North Carolina. I wasn’t expecting fist-pumping levels of fanfare from golf-mad colleagues, more a gentle surge in sporting enthusiasm. Frankly, the opposite was closer to reality.

“Golf? I’d rather eat swede than watch it,” sniffed Jon Snow, who insisted he’s more of a tennis man.

I turned to co-presenter Cathy Newman for support: “US Open fever? I think you’re more likely to bring people out in a cold sweat!”

High-wire unpredictability

With the World Cup kicking off on the same day, perhaps I’d misjudged the samba spirit of the newsroom. Unlike Rio, there won’t be anyone called Pitbull or Jenny from the Block opening the tournament, belting out “Ole Ola” on the first tee.

In fact, this year’s line-up won’t even feature the injury-troubled Tiger Woods. The absence of the fun-loving former champion has sent ticket sales at Pinehurst plummeting, but the next four days will be a spectacle of high-wire unpredictability as golfing greats battle it out for a purse of US$8,000,000 on the old money course.

If Rory McIlroy’s performance on the course post break-up with Caroline Wozniacki is anything to go by, you might fancy a flutter on him.

After a winless season and a tumultuous 2013, newly single Rory McIlroy (pictured above, right) is the bookies’ favourite as he eyes up a second US Open title. The Northern Irishman has said that he will go into this year’s second major full of confidence. If his dazzling performance on the course post break-up with ex-fiancee Caroline Wozniacki is anything to go by, you might fancy a flutter on the broken-hearted Ulsterman.

But at the risk of alienating more of my colleagues waxing lyrical about this plucky sporting god in laboured prose, as McIlroy himself recently put it: “It’s time to move on.”

Chipping giant

My personal favourite to win the championship is top leftie golfer and all-round decent guy Phil Mickelson (pictured above, left). The six times runner-up needs this victory to complete a career grand slam. It’s a hefty ask of a man who is playing the worst golf of his career, who can’t recall a top 10 finish, and who is currently under investigation by the FBI for insider trading violations.

That said, the man is a chipping giant. On a course with upturned saucers passing as greens and unforgiving shaved run-offs, the US Open will be won by a single-minded, short game god who can pull miracle shots out of his bag time and again.

The US Open will be won by a single-minded, short game god who can pull miracle shots out of his bag time and again.

Poignantly this was something Mickelson failed to do in 1999 when he let his first chance at a US Open victory slip away on the same course, finishing a shot behind the late Payne Stewart.

Fifteen years on, the killer rough and narrow fairways on Pinehurst No. 2 have been replaced by wide fairways and expansive waste areas and now are teeming with passionate crowds who have descended upon the 114th US Open Championship.

Not the World Cup

Substitute the cries of over-zealous and over-served fans screeching “Get in the hole!” after every golf shot with the deafening instrument of torture, the infernal vuvuzela that assaulted our eardrums four years ago, and you might briefly think you were at the World Cup.

It was this argument I put forward to our genteel Liam Dutton, the agreeable Channel 4 News resident weatherman, in some vain hope that it might stir up potential interest from a notable sports-obsessed sleeper.

Looking scornful, Liam slowly rose to his feet: “The only thing more boring than football is golf.” And with that he was off.

If anybody needs me over the next four days, I shall be at my desk watching the US Open championship… alone!

Hayley Barlow is head of communications for Channel 4 News and writes a blog called Golfmadchick. Follow @Hayley_Barlow on Twitter