John Vane: Roy’s Summer of Sport (Sunday 22 July 2012) Els and Mandela

John Vane: Roy’s Summer of Sport (Sunday 22 July 2012) Els and Mandela

The sun shone over south London: Kennington, Purley, Croydon and all. Roy sat in the spare room at his computer pondering life, death and love. Also cricket. Also golf. He several times tried and several times failed to compose a reply to Kristie’s email. He cooked breakfast – eggs, sausages, waffles, beans – ate it, went upstairs to weigh himself nude, changed his mind, returned to the keyboard and wrote, “Has it really been that long?” He sent the question to Kristie and felt a coward.

At the Oval, Hashim Amla’s innings resumed. Another cover drive took him to 200. “Still looks like he’s just walked out there,” said Shane Warne. Kallis reached a century. Amla swept Swann for four to reach 250. He passed 278, the highest ever score by a South African. Another four came off the edge – no one is perfect – and then it was 600 for two and Amla was on 299.

The fielders closed in to stop the one. Amla struck a four just over cover’s grasping hand. Shaun Pollock, the team’s former captain: “Hashim Amla, the first South African to get 300 in a Test match, your country salutes you, your team mates salute you, the crowd here salutes you, well done young man.”

And yet, Roy thought, he seemed far from young. He seemed timeless.

No reply yet from Kristie.

Amla had scored 311 when South Africa declared. In Paris, Wiggins won the Tour. At Royal Lytham, the leaders were deep into their final rounds. Woods left one in a bunker, took seven, his latest public crushing. It was windy, all were struggling. On the nine holes home, only Els advanced. Roy liked him, his gentle giant manner and his age of 42. Els was second on his own but still three shots behind Scott as he went to the eighteenth.

All eyes, all cameras, every golfer’s quailing empathy zoomed in on Scott as he lined up his second to the sixteenth. He hit it straight, he hit the green, but hit it long. The huge putt back stopped three feet from the hole. The par putt lipped out. Big Ernie rolled in a 15-footer to finish seven-under. “He still has a chance!” the commentator declared, but that chance depended on disaster striking Scott.

Disaster came. The rough engulfed him beside the seventeenth green, another shot was dropped. Scott’s face as he watched his drive at the eighteenth was a study in hope strangled by despair against a backdrop of Rolex sponsorship. The ball found fairway sand. He had to play out sideways then had to hit the pitch shot of his life. The pitch shot was good, but not good enough to make it easy to sink the putt and force a tie.

He missed the putt.

“Adam Scott’s going to be scarred for life,” the commentator said.

A table was set up, a speech was made. Els accepted the claret jug and made a speech of his own. He called Scott his “buddy” and “great friend” and said he felt for him. He praised the course and thanked his family, saying he’d sooner be with them that evening than go to Canada, as scheduled. Scott looked on. Without his cap and glasses he looked lean and wiry, a true competitor. And yet he had unravelled.

Els consulted notes from a scrap of paper. He thanked Nelson Mandela, calling him “president” even though Mandela had stepped down from that post in 1999. He described Mandela as “a great influence in our country”, called South Africa a success and seemed to assert, in an opaque way, that everyone there now had the freedom to play golf. And everybody cheered, and Roy felt both uplifted by Els and desperate for Scott.

A reply came through from Kristie: “Yes, it has been a long time. Maybe you think nice things about me, though. Are you alright? Are you missing me ? Do you need me to come home?”

All previous instalments of Roy’s Summer of Sport are HERE. Image from here. Follow John Vane on Twitter.

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Categories: Culture, Roy's Summer of Sport

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