How do we choose our sporting heroes? Sometimes, it could be an individual performance that sticks in the memory and moves us for some reason. For others it could be an attitude – a way of playing that just excites you and makes you want to root for them. For others still, it could be about inspiration – we fall in love with players who we ourselves would like to emulate, who may even share some of our own qualities, (albeit at a much higher level!).
So, when I’m asked who my favourite player is, I have to admit that I struggle to choose just one. In some ways it’s easier to say who I’m not so keen on – players like Tiger Woods or Dustin Johnson for example. But there are a number of players who I love to watch for very different reasons – so, here’s my round up of some of them.
One of those players who I just have an affinity for – not least because he’s a lefty, like me. He’s also an honest player – a grafter, but with a creative enough imagination to play some brave and imaginative shots when he needs to. He’s also just an all-round good guy – he looks after his family, and he also takes the time to acknowledge the massive input of his caddie when he enjoys a success. When Phil picked up his second US Masters Tournament victory in Augusta in 2006 – his third major championship at that point – he made sure his caddie was able to come along to the celebratory club dinner that night. One of the good guys.
Another hard worker – one of the most intense players you’re ever likely to see out on the course, and someone who was very aware of the mental side of the game (he was asked in 1977 who he saw as his biggest threat as he entered the last day of the Masters – his answer was ‘myself’). He’s also responsible for one of my biggest regrets in golf, when he broke so many hearts in Turnberry at the Open Championship back in 2009. Aged 59, and with a hip replacement behind him, he’d birdied to lead by one going into the final hole. I was there watching when he was walking down the 18th, thinking I was watching history – but sadly it wasn’t to be, as ultimately Stewart Cink stepped up to take the title.
You’ve got to love a player who is prepared to strip down to his underwear to play a golf shot in order to avoid getting his clothes muddy. Henrik Stenson did just that back in 2009 on a course in Florida – and caused a minor stir at the time – but he’s a player who has more to his game than just a willingness to try the unusual once in a while. He won the 2016 Open after one of the best final rounds of golf I’ve ever seen – holding off the aforementioned Phil Mickelson in a truly memorable tussle that went all the way to the wire. It was a day that for me showcased one of Henrik’s finest qualities – his ability to hold his ice cool nerve under pressure – and I’m sure it will serve him very well in many more tournaments in the future.
My final pick is a player who has had a pretty rocky relationship with fans (especially US ones) over the years, thanks to a bitter rivalry with Tiger Woods and his influential role in the European Ryder Cup team. But he is a player who I never tire of watching – and I’m so glad that he finally found the success he deserves last April in Augusta. He’s a supremely talented golfer, but one who, for whatever reason, seemed destined never to fully hit the heights. Consider the stats – up to the moment in which he clinched the Masters, he’d had 73 failed attempts to win a major, with four runners up spots, 12 finishes in the top five, and 22 in the top 10. Winning at the Masters then was richly deserved – this is someone who knows the meaning of persistence, and I’m glad that he never gave up on his dream.