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Mark of the man

Bob Skinner is glorying right now in his back-door tipping of Darren Clarke to win the Open. I cannot let that stand without retaliation, but first, I’m going to tell you a story.

Thirty-one years ago, the Open came to Muirfield on the rota, and in common with the rest of Gullane, I took time off work to enjoy it all the way through. As fate had it, my good friend Doctor Golf was an exhibitor in the main commercial tent that year, selling his excellent custom made golf clubs under his Kugar brand. The practice then, and now for all I know, was for stand-renters to be invited to a press reception, with Bollinger, before the big show got under way. Since he was a beer man pure and simple, DG was kind enough to give me his invitation, in the hope that it might generate a little publicity. I’ve never been hugely keen on champagne at lunchtime, but I did my bit; a couple of bottle later, I managed to persuade Joan Simpson, from the Evening News, t0 accopmpany me back to the Kugar stand, with a view to including the range in a future piece, but really just to show the Doc a face.

As we left the reception area, I was speaking to Joan and so I failed to see the guy heading in the opposite direction, and bumped into him. He was a big man, bigger than me, and I’m not a midget. I blinked, looked up at him, and said ‘**** me, you’re Mark McCormack.’ For the younger set, and non-golfers, Mr McCormack was at that time the most celebrated sports agent in the world, founder and CEO of the International Management Group, now simply IMG, and a regular commentator on the BBCTV golf team. He was also a very nice man, for instead of grunting and going on his way, he smiled and said ‘I am indeed.’ My response was to ask him if he’d like to come and see my mate’s golf clubs, and he replied ‘Sure’. Thus it was that I made Doctor Golf’s day. I don’t know whether Mark bought any clubs, but his mere presence there was enough. A class act.

Which brings me back to where I began. IMG is still there, but sadly, its founder left us in 2003. Today, the hot ticket in golf management is Andrew Chandler, known as Chubby for very obvious reasons. It’s a remarkable fact that each of the three major championships contested this year has been won by a Chandler client, each one a first time winner. I regard that as an omen, and that is why I am tipping, as winner of next month’s US PGA, a fourth of Chubby’s boys, Lee John Westwood. Eat your heart out, Skinner, when he lifts the trophy.

Incidentally, I have one other memory of that day. As Mark swung Doctor Golf’s product, I happened to glance across at the opposite exhibit. I can’t recall whose it was but I do know that standing there was a young free and single Greg Norman. He was not alone; he had another sports star of the day at his side, tall, blonde, early twenties, and very attractive. No names, no pack drill, but every time I switch on Question of Sport these days, there she is, in the chair.

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