I’ve never been blessed with particularly good teeth. In fact, my higgledy-piggledy assembly of yellowing fangs and tusks would make Albert Steptoe’s grisly grimace look like a blinding, beaming grin by The Bee Gees in comparison.

I mention this purely because it was World Oral Health Day at the weekend and I marked the occasion by staring forlornly into the mirror at a mouthful of crumbling oddities and absurdities that resemble a squint row of toppled headstones in a vandalised cemetery.

Personally, I blame the Tuesday column for this dental decrepitness due to all the teeth gnashing and grinding that goes into its weekly construction. By the time it’s been emailed over to the sports desk, the laptop is actually covered in a light dusting of granulated enamel.

So what, pray tell, are we getting our teeth into this week? Well, let’s move seamlessly into the WGC Matchplay which gets underway in Texas tomorrow.

As we all know, matchplay golf, in its purest form, is decisively straightforward. The winner ploughs on, the loser is oot. There are no second chances in this thrilling, fluctuating and unpredictable type of cut-throat, head-to-head golfing combat.

Many years spent covering the Scottish Boys’ Championship always used to underline the ruthless nature of it when, for example, you got a young lad travelling all the way from Wick to West Kilbride only to get swiftly sent back up the road again after a sobering 8&7 thumping in the first round. It’s a tough, unforgiving school.

Of course, in the money-soaked industry of the professional game, this kind of win-or-pack-yer-bags formula leaves tournament organisers, sponsors and TV companies squirming like a bag of speared eels at the crushing prospect of the star attractions being ejected on the first day and the anti-climax of a final between Billy Whatshisface and Joe Whitdoyoucallhim. Back in the 2002 championship in California, for instance, the top two seeds, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, both lost to Peter O’Malley and John Cook respectively. But that has always been the wonderfully alluring appeal of a man-to-man skirmish during which an underdog can easily become a top dog, a David can down a Goliath or a Jeff Maggert can meet an Andrew Magee in the final, as happened in the inaugural staging back in 1999.

But what do you do to try to avoid your top dogs departing quicker than a greyhound out the traps at Shawfield? That’s right. You cobble together some round-robin group system for the initial exchanges which means everybody is guaranteed at least three ties regardless of whether they win or get well and truly routed.

In effect, you’re trying to engineer some way to make sure the big names progress in a convoluted formula that has more safety nets than a trapeze act’s training session and can often lead to kind of will he, won’t he permutations that prompts more head-scratching than Stan Laurel reading the Hamilton Report. 

You can also end up with a series of dead rubbers in which the players involved struggle to muster the motions let alone go through them.

In Texas this week, 64 players – including Oban debutant Robert MacIntyre – will be split into 16 groups of four. By Sunday there will be a winner although it does take three days to actually get to the knock-out stage and to the very essence of the matchplay format.

The opening day tomorrow, then, will not be quite edge of the seat stuff purely on the basis that nobody will be heading for the exit gates. Nothing focusses the golfing mind and heightens the competitive instincts quite like being four down after five in an 18-hole shoot-out. 

But when you’ve got another crack at it the following day, there’s not quite the same sense of all-or-nowt urgency.

What we can all be grateful for, though, is the appearance of matchplay itself. In the staple diet of 72-hole, identikit strokeplay events, a wee change of fare is always warmly welcomed. A matchplay tournament with a slightly contrived format is better than no matchplay at all.


Whatever you decide to do as a career, you need a bit of advice. Even this correspondent was given some helping pearls of wisdom as I started at the bottom and slowly but surely worked my way up to obscurity.  

An initiative launched by the Stephen Gallacher Foundation in tandem with Bounce Sports Management will see some of Scotland’s leading male and female golfers take on mentoring roles in a “buddy” system with up-and-coming amateurs.

The aforementioned MacIntyre, for example, has been paired up with young left-hander Cameron Adam and will, basically, take him under his wing. 

Other European Tour players, like Grant Forrest and Calum Hill, as well as Ladies European Tour winner, Kylie Henry, are also on board with a scheme aimed at aiding various golfing career choices, whether that’s the amateur to professional transition or heading to college in the US.

Along with major winners such as Paul Lawrie and Catriona Matthew, who are working with Scottish Golf on a performance programme, there is a great resource available to tap into for young golfers in the home of golf.

In this game of fine margins, every little bit helps.