As a vertically challenged member of society, the term “size matters” played a lot on my mind growing up. If sized mattered, then at 5 foot feck all, the outlook for me wasn’t very good. I needed a chair to reach the good biscuit tin in the kitchen cupboard. I stole an inch or two on my tippy toes to land my first kiss behind the prefab at school, and I spent the best moments of every live performance or sporting contest I ever attended staring hopelessly at the back of the person in front.
For all my shortcomings though, I was a pretty decent footballer. The game played to my strengths, a low centre of gravity more helpful than not. Pele, Maradona, John Giles, there was no shortage of pint-sized icons to aspire to, so you could imagine my horror when at just 12 years young I was told by the A team selectors at the local club that I was too small to play on the first team. Instead left to wallow on the B team until I filled out.
I was installed as captain of the under-12’s, scant consolation for me and my stumpy legs, but motivation enough to prove the selectors were making a terrible mistake. I can’t remember exactly who we played on that season opener as a pre-pubescent, but what I can recall was how the opposing team split their sides laughing as I emerged from our warm-up session and made my way to the halfway line to shake the opposing captain’s hand. It didn’t help that my jersey was 10 sizes too big, made me look like I was shrinking under the gangly centre half’s sweaty grip, but the adolescent chuckles of some unsuspecting young Dubs didn’t have to poke this bear, as miniature and cuddly as I might’ve seemed as the ref blew his whistle for kick off.
It’s how I imagine a part of Richard Bland might feel when he tees up alongside the American brute that is Bryson DeChambeau in their first round encounter at the Match Play on Wednesday. If there’s been two more contrasting styles facing off on a professional fairway, I’ve yet to see it.
Bryson has been murdering the golf ball since using his brains to pack on brawn, bludgeoning his way to a first Major title at the US Open before testing his new-found might against the established stars of the World’s Long Drive scene.
Few will forget arguably DeChambeau’s greatest flex to date… driving the first green ala Happy Gilmore on Ryder Cup Sunday at Whistling Straits at the expense of Sergio Garcia; Bryson grabbing his putter on the tee box of the par-4 and raising it aloft to roars of approval in Wisconsin.
Bland could hardly be more opposite in his approach. An elder statesman by comparison, tactically navigating his way around golf’s extended layouts, maximising his skillset to become a first-time European Tour winner at the British Masters last year, at his 478th attempt.
This will be a duel like no other in Austin. The leader of the PGA Tour’s driving charts averaging 323.7 yards from the tee versus the 183rd ranked hitter on the DP World Tour averaging a respectable 292 yards. However, given the carry time and some of the lines DeChambeau has the luxury of attacking from the tee, it’s not inconceivable to think there could be over one hundred yards in the difference between some of Bryson and Bland’s drives on Wednesday. And the best part about it? Bland won’t care one bit.
I expect Bland to embrace a sweet opportunity to stick one in close ahead of his colossal opponent time and time again in his bid to slay Goliath. He won’t admit it publicly, but Bland will be gunning to prove, not only that he’s still got what it takes to beat DeChambeau at the age of 49, but that in golf, despite all the talk around distance, size doesn’t always have to matter, and that wit, class and talent can prevail. Which brings me back to that under-12’s game…
The oaf might’ve won the coin toss, but my early onset small man syndrome meant I was going to win the war.
Barely two minutes in, a half-cleared header fell at my puny feet. And not just any old foot. It hung in the air ripe for the volley before my weaker left one. Despite playing football since I could walk, I’m not sure my left foot had ever kicked a ball, but with the screeching taunts of the gargantuan opposition ringing in my ears, I wasn’t going to let history stop me.
I closed my eyes, swung my wee left leg and Christ if I didn’t catch it so cleanly I wasn’t sure I caught it at all, just peered through the slits of my eyelids to watch it hit the underside of the crossbar and ripple the net. I couldn’t even celebrate. Propelled into shock. But it turns out I didn’t have to.
We won the game 3-2, and as a non-scoring midfielder, I managed to bag another, and as I strained my neck at full time to stare my opponents in the eyes as I relished shaking their hands, it’s fair to say I’d had the last laugh.
Let’s hope Blandy does too!
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