An English translation of my article published in El Pais, Madrid on the experiences of Spanish golfers Mireia Pratt, Belen Mozo and Beatriz Recari in Australia.
Life as a professional golfer is not all glory. Far from the multi-million dollar smiles of American TV, Mireia Prat, has been living the life of a golfing backpacker for the last month in Australia. With a small suitcase and her golf bag Mireia has been billeted by golfing families around the country in her quest to play in some of the antipodes largest women’s golfing events.
Three weeks ago and a few days after the peloton fanned out into an echelon along the road that runs through the crest of the dunes stretching out of Cadel Evan’s home at Barwon Heads on the windy Victorian coast, Mireia was teeing off in the Victorian Open at the 13th Beach links. Unique in the golfing world 13th Beach’s 36 holes allows the Victorian Open runs its women’s and men’s championships over the same 4 days.
Two years ago Mireia who plays on the a LET Tour finished 5th and set the course record for the Beach course. Nestled in the dunes behind the beach the course is typified by its undulations where all the trees appear bent over as if in prayer seeking shelter from the prevailing wind that blows in across the Southern ocean from the cold of the Antarctic. Even in summer the wind carries its bite. Mireia started well but her first round for the year came apart when she found herself on the edge of a bunker and under one of those hunchbacked trees. Her only way out was sideways, deeper into the savage rough and sand. She missed the cut by a shot but was philosophical about it and back at work the next day on the practice range before heading north to Queensland and the Australian Ladies Masters.
Mireia didn’t qualify for the Australian Women’s Open played on Dr Alister McKenzie’s beautiful but brutal hell known as Royal Melbourne. Carved out of the grey sand and tea tree scrub of Melbourne’s sand belt Royal Melbourne is for many, such as 2006 US Open champion Geoff Ogilvy and his golf course design partner, former pro, Michael Clayton, one of, if not the best course in the world. It is a classic McKenzie risk and reward design but when the wind blows it becomes savage, its greens some of the hardest and fastest to be found anywhere. Such is the courses reputation that when Lee Trevino finished third here in 1974 with a score of nine over par he said ‘take a picture of me going out the gate because you won’t ever see me coming back in.’
Both Belen Mozo and Beatriz Recari expressed their admiration for Royal Melbourne’s design and beauty. Whilst on some days there were complaints of slow play Clayton reminded us all that Royal Melbourne is a slow course to play – the undulating fairways, the wind, the swales and the roller coaster lightening fast greens. Beatriz Recari was on side with Clayton ‘it is a tough course, you will have a 4 metre putt and it will break in four directions, you have to think and plan to play this course … but I love playing here it is a great test’. Mozo agreed that the course is very different to anything that they play on the LPGA Tour in the US, ‘it’s a links course and you have to hit good shots … and I didn’t play well’. Mozo recognises that ‘you have to fall down to stand up again’ and that ‘there are more tournaments to come’ for her and that this coming week in Thailand is one of them.
Belen’s style on the course is open and chatty. On the tee her and brother Jesus talk, a lot, as only Spaniards can – ‘a half 7 or a full 8’ advises Jesus on the short but treacherous par 3 5th, ‘an 8 no way’ back and forth whilst her playing partner, the Canadian Lorie Kane, smiles and wonders what they are discussing. She hits the shot, a 7 iron with her hands down the grip, and it scuttles off the concrete like putting surface and off the back of the green ‘oh not there!’ she exhales out aloud. But even as her tournament is falling apart Belen drifts between having her head in her hands to sharing her drinks with three women who have come to see her play ‘I am here on holidays’ one tells me, ‘from Cadiz, I am a good friend of her mother’. Seeing them, suffering from the 30 degree heat which in Melbourne always feels so much more, Belen kisses and hands them all cold drinks reserved for the players.
Nothing could be further from the style of Beatriz Recari. Nothing could be further away from the vision the world possesses of Spanish golf firmly entrenched as it is in the flamboyance of Seve than Recari. Someone asked me who I was going to follow on the final day and I told him Recari – ‘she’s not much fun’ he said. Listening to the gallery one hears the talk, ‘that is a tough women’, says one ‘she hasn’t smiled in four days’ says another. But to observe Recari at work is at the same time to be entranced and to enter another world.
Recari played steady, in fact great golf everyday. Only 11 players finished under par, Recari just behind at one over, she constantly peppered the flag with her irons, missing only one green on the final day – a miscalculation caused by a strengthening gust of wind. ‘I don’t know if I am intense’ she tells me after the final round, ‘I don’t like to show emotion on the golf course … sure I am Spanish but out there I try to keep my emotions under control’.
Recari’s strength is physical as well as mental. You can feel it. She takes the advice of the mythical and mystical Scottish professional Shivas Irons to the extreme – ‘the game is made for the walking’ he said – Recari runs off the tee, before settling into a determined march to her ball, always ahead of her playing partners, and caddy, whom it appears she only talks to looking back, otherwise her eyes are always forward focussed upon what is to come.
Each shot is preceded by 8 exact seconds of visualisation before taking her stance, followed by another 8 exact seconds over the ball. Here she again seems to channel Shivas Irons, the muscles in her legs joining in communion with the earth to find her true gravity, Irons’s term for tapping into the deeper structure of the universe. She then swings and the balls soars with a feint right to left draw always it seems finding its target. This week it was only the greens that kept her out of contention, so many times her ball finished hanging on the edge of the hole denying her much-needed eagles and birdies.
Recari maybe, as one observer said to me, ‘a little bit Korean’ a reference to her intense focus and drive on course. It’s a reference that appealed to her ‘I take that as a compliment’ she said, ‘they are great players, they win’. However, unlike the Koreans she doesn’t smile, despite her beauty there is no glamour, she barely acknowledges the crowd or her playing partners. Her conversations with her caddy and short and almost monosyllabic, there is no emotion, it is machine like, but it is highly effective.
She has the emotionless killer instinct of another of her Navarran countrymen, a silent methodical calculator; it struck me on the back nine that there are so many things about Recari on the course that are like Indurain on the bike. And both Recari and Indurain share something in common with a golfer of another time and legend, one that was often criticised for being insular and emotionless, a silent yogi in a world of his own on the course. Recari has something of Ben Hogan’s determination in her. She may not embody glamour and smiles, she may not be approachable, but she has that quite emotionless inner strength – a little bit Korean, but very much Indurain and Hogan – ‘well thankyou, they are two great people to be compared with’ she concludes and marches off to the airport and another week of work in Thailand.