The US Masters gets under way in that haven of equal opportunity that is Augusta Georgia. A mere $1,350,000 is available to the winner.
Golf's image has been tarnished by the unpleasantness of Tiger Woods, who seems to aspire to be Wayne Rooney. The pampered advertising hoardings that are the competitors moan week in week out that the grass is too long, or too short, or too green, or not green enough. There have also been scandals of players moving their balls mere centimetres and being disqualified. (How different codes apply - footballers as a matter of principle take free kicks at least 10 yards from where the offence took place.)
The authorities have failed to stand up to manufacturers and regulate equipment properly so that balls now go further and clubs hit further, requiring courses to be extended with the result that the game can be boring beyond belief. Crowds have become boorish. Chasing the Asian dollar, the so called European Tour starts in the Far East. Millionaire egotists create their own tricked up substandard golf courses and demand tournaments are played there rather than where nature put golf courses unassisted. Oh yes, there is lots wrong with the game, but somehow it still retains its decorum.
And the Masters has a set of made up traditions all its own. It is the embodiment of that old world conservatism that golf conjures up through the haze of dollar signs. The past winners' dinner. The green jacket. The azaleas. The minimal rough. It is a feast for the eye. Sometimes the play matches it - when the leading players begin the back nine on Sunday within a few shots of each other and someone has to win it. But too often it is a processional and duller than the IPL.
Fantasy Bob's golf swing may well be a thing of beauty. But it is of limited effectiveness. Through a complete accident he plays in one pro-am each year when the starter makes the PA first tee announcement to the assembled crowd of precisely no one. 'And on the tee Fantasy Bob.......' booms across the links. As the ripple of applause and cries of You're the man' die away, what happens next is always a matter of interest and scientific curiosity. There are generally only four directions that a golf ball can travel in - or five if you count direct vertical ascent - North South East or West. Fantasy Bob generally leaves this choice to the ball. He has achieved all 5 directions effortlessly with, from his point of view, no discernible difference in input. On several occasions he has achieved all 5 directions at once. For some unaccountable reason FB's performances have not lead to the Masters committee issuing an invitation to him to play in the Masters.
FB would like a European to win, and McIlroy could be in with a shout, as could Westwood. But this year FB is rooting for Japanese player Ryo Ishikawa who announced last week he would donate all of his tournament earnings for 2011 to the Tsunami relief efforts, plus an extra $1,200 (about £750) for each competition birdie he makes. Outstanding.
Ryo - you're the man. Good luck