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Monday, September 28, 2020

Thomas amongst the standout performers from The Match II

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I held out little hope for ‘The Match, Champions for Charity’. After watching the snore fest at Seminole last Sunday, coupled with the PTSD I suffer anytime I recall The Match part I, how could you not be sceptical?

Of course, I tuned in anyway, expecting cringe inducing pre-rehearsed “banter” and uninspiring golf from two undercooked legends in Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson and two unlikely partners, American footballers Tom Brady and Peyton Manning . And yes, we still got a bit of that cringe factor but not in the drowning quantities I envisaged. This was a production that learned from last week’s car crash at Seminole. This time the players took centre stage, particularly Brady.

I’d seen the quarterback swing a club before on the TV show Entourage. His action looked decent, his 8 handicap plausible. There was no need for a stunt double and he even outshone Johnny Drama in his plus fours that episode no problem. But six holes in last night and Brady must’ve been wishing the Medalist turf would open up and swallowed him whole. Handicap secretaries the world over were wondering how Brady swung his single digit declaration; his desperate struggles more relatable than Marianne and Connell’s tumultuous relationship in Normal People.

But they don’t say Brady has ice in his veins for nothing. Six Super Bowl rings including four MVP performances, those not familiar with Tom’s work might’ve been expecting him to crumble but no true football fan would’ve been surprised by what arrived on 7 – Touch down Brady!

To the relief of everyone watching at home, the strapping swinger holed out from the fairway for the most unlikely birdie, even ripping his pants at the crack with the excitement. It almost inspired a comeback for team Mickelson.

Instead, Tiger and Manning held their nerve to complete a 1UP win and in truth, it was a win all round for the event with a whopping $20 million raised in the process for Covid-19. What a doubting Thomas I’d been.

How apt then that for me, the biggest surprise of the night came in the form of another Thomas, the capable on-course commentator Justin. Where last week’s broadcast bled the ears of the listeners with a Billy Murray cameo and a Donald Trump phone call, Thomas bounced off on-air caller Charles Barkley like they’d been in the hotseat on Tour together their whole lives.

The world number 4 took to the sopping wet fairways of on-course commentary like a duck to water. His inputs were timely, never jarring, informative when they needed to be and downright entertaining when they didn’t. Calling Barkley a “fat ass” live on air was amongst a glowing highlight reel perhaps headlined by his recounting of his experience of playing foursomes with Tiger Woods at the Presidents Cup in December.

In what would prove a clutch match for American hopes, even so early on, of overturning Ernie Els’ International side, Thomas detailed the high pressure advice he received from his Friday foursomes playing partner and Captain – T-Dub! – as their match edged towards its completion at Royal Melbourne.

“I have a funny quick story about when I was partners with T-Dub in Australia this past year. It was on 16, we were all square and it was my tee shot,” said Thomas.

“We kind of had the general consensus that we don’t say anything to each other unless we need help, so he hadn’t said anything to me, and I get up to the tee. 16 is a hard tee shot for me. It’s a dogleg left, wind in off the left, so I just need to try to get it in play. But it’s a long enough hole where I can’t quite hit something short off the tee or he’s going to have a mile in.

“T-Dub just walks up behind me without even thinking about it, first thing he’s said to me in two days, and just said, ‘I don’t care what I have in. Just hit the effing fairway!’

And walked away. And that was all I got from him.”

Under the GOAT’s instruction, Thomas found the fairway and this was the result, much to the dismay of Ben An and Hideki Matsuyama on the 18th green.

Turns out Thomas can do much more than hole clutch putts. Should his golf game ever elude him, a spot in the commentary box will surely be waiting after Sunday’s five star performance.

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Rising Pitch

It's not only membership at 9 and 18 hole courses that's bloomed this year, Pitch & Putt is on the rise too. Kevin Markham looks at the game’s shortest form*