WE all have our little rituals and habits. Before sitting down to winkle out this column, for instance, I gaze at my own fizzog in the mirror and perform a weekly pep-talk which tends to start with soaring Churchillian oratory before swiftly descending into the glum-faced defeatism of a Les Dawson soliloquy.

Peering at my reflection, while mulling over the prospect of re-grouting my crow’s feet, I was reminded of the words of Mark Twain who suggested that “wrinkles should merely indicate where the smiles have been.” I thought to myself, “crikey, surely nothing could’ve been that hilarious?” as I gouged some dust out of my furrowed brow.

And talking of general scowls and glowers? Well, there was a fair bit of mumbling and moaning over the weekend.

Rather like a bad dose of sunburn, professional golfers can be a prickly, sensitive old lot.

Trudging off one of the greens at La Quinta during the American Express tournament, Jon Rahm, the world No 1, embarked on a muttering, jumbled offensive that was picked up on a microphone as he ranted that the course was “a piece of s**t f***ing set up, putting contest week.” It wasn’t quite the erudite analysis of Bernard Darwin.

Over in Abu Dhabi, Tyrrell Hatton, a man so explosive he actually keeps his clubs in an ammunition depot, fired off a prolonged, withering tirade against the par-5 18th hole at Yas Links and growled, among other things, that, “I would love for a bomb to drop on it and blow it up to oblivion to be honest.”

The seeds of his fury had been planted during Saturday’s third round when Hatton took an eye-watering nine on this long closing hole which scuppered his title defence. You could understand why his judgement was somewhat clouded by the red mist.

I don’t know about you, but I do enjoy watching the leading lights hurling their toys out of the pram.

Hatton groused and groaned that he couldn’t reach the green in two on a par-5, the poor thing. To a casual observer, his whining must have seemed as ridiculous as the revelation that Prince Andrew got a maid to rearrange his teddy bear collection. In an age defined by distance, which can see par-5s routinely reduced to a couple of hefty clatters, Hatton didn’t garner much sympathy from those who still like to see long holes protecting their par with a miser’s care. Having birdied the hole twice during the event, the 18th clearly wasn’t the untameable beast Hatton made it out to be.

“Perhaps I may not be back,” he said after his final round with the kind of brattish sense of entitlement you’d get in the Bullingdon Club.

Rahm, meanwhile, was essentially moaning that La Quinta was too easy. In the cosseted realms of golf’s  upper echelons, you’ll never please everybody when it comes to setting up a golf course.

One thing you can guarantee, though, is that this grand old game will continue to tease and torment, whether you’re a Rahm, a Hatton or a hapless howker at the local municipal.

Golf, wherever and however you play it, has a habit of infuriating. It remains a great leveller.


When Thomas Pieters made a barnstorming Ryder Cup debut for Europe in 2016, the young Belgian had all and sundry on this side of the pond cooing like pigeons in a hot tub. 

Despite the USA’s commanding victory at Hazeltine, Pieters’ haul of four points from five led to many of us jubilantly declaring him a talisman of European teams for years to come. Even Rory McIlroy, who partnered Pieters to three wins out of three in foursomes and fourballs, was smitten. “I've got a partner beside me for the next 20 years and I'm not letting anyone else have him,” he said at the time. Those fickle golfing gods don’t dish out guarantees, of course.

Pieters hasn’t played in the biennial battle since but his win in Abu Dhabi on Sunday, the biggest of his six career victories and his second in his last three starts, was another major stride back to prominence. A couple of days shy of his 30th birthday, Pieters is now 31st on world rankings.

"I kind of disappeared for a couple years I guess," said Pieters, who did manage a bolt-from-the blue win at the Czech Masters in 2019 which was his only top-five in two years. "I’m happy to be back.”

There will be plenty in the European scene happy to see him back too. Hopefully, 2022 can see a few more rousing re-appearances. Over in California, Francesco Molinari finished in a share of sixth at the American Express event, his highest finish since the 2019 Masters.

After that magical 2018, which saw him win The Open, emerge from a thrilling Ryder Cup in France with a memorable five-out-of-five record and be crowned European No 1, Molinari ended that particular year at No 7 on the world rankings. 

At the end of 2021, he was 212th after a desperate loss of form and injury-induced setbacks.

Fingers crossed, there may be some light at the end of the tunnel for this fine professional.