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Dispatches from Turkey

07 NOV 2017

By Peter Mumford

Outside of the RBC Canadian Open and an occasional major championship, I don’t attend too many professional golf events anymore but when Turkish Airlines invited me to be their guest in Antalya, Turkey for the Turkish Airlines Open last week, it was too good an opportunity to ignore.

The tournament was played at the Regnum Carya Golf & Spa Resort on the Mediterranean coast in the southern part of Turkey. This is a pretty affluent resort area and most of the golf fans were from the UK, Germany and Japan, with a healthy representation of Turks on holiday too.

The Turkish Airlines Open is the third last event on the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, which, if anyone isn’t aware, is much like the FedEx Cup, except easier to follow and not distorted by a lot of weird recalculation of points. Heading into the tournament, Tommy Fleetwood of England was leading the R2D, followed by Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose. You’ll probably remember Fleetwood from the last Ryder Cup – he’s the young English lad with long hair and an incredibly precise iron game.

I’m not going to get into an extended tournament recap except to say, as you already know, Justin Rose won and moved into second spot on the Race to Dubai. It was Rose’s second victory in as many weeks, following his WGC victory in Shanghai.

Ironically, all of the advertising for the event featured Rose as the headliner along with Henrik Stenson and Matt Kuchar. (Garcia had indicated earlier that he wasn’t going to play.) At the last minute, Kuchar also pulled out, citing safety concerns after he found out the U.S. and Turkey had some visa issues. Those problems took about 48 hours to resolve but apparently that was enough for Kooch to head home. Let’s just say that the reaction amongst the European players was something along the lines of “typical American behaviour.”

There are obviously a lot of similarities between the PGA Tour and the European Tour but there are some striking differences too. Following are a few of my observations:

One of the first things I noticed is that the Euro’s seem to genuinely like each other. Most of them stayed with their families in the Regnum Carya hotel and ate together. Sometimes they were joined by people I assumed were agents and managers – usually guys with no tan carrying a binder. At PGA Tour stops, you see some of that too but more often you see a player and his entourage huddled away from the crowd.

Every time the Ryder Cup is played, someone mentions this is an advantage for the Euros and it would be hard to quantify but I can’t say I’ve observed the same kind of camaraderie from the Americans outside of Ryder Cup week itself. Advantage Team Europe I’d say.

Another player observation: the European Tour players are way more casual than PGA Tour players. They regularly interacted with fans in the hotel, on the range and particularly during the pro am, stopping to take photos, sign autographs, even have a beer. More than anything, they just seemed to be having a lot more fun. Here’s an example from early in the week:

 

Crowds were certainly smaller at this event than any PGA Tour stop I’ve seen - for the first few days perhaps only a few dozen people were on each hole. That changed on Sunday as several hundred lined each fairway and moved with the leaders. While there were ropes to keep people back, the marshals were pretty relaxed too and everybody respected the boundaries. By and large they were knowledgeable and very respectful.

One thing that was weird to see was that everyone at the tournament had a cell phone and most were taking pictures or videos constantly. One has to wonder what they do with all those photos.

The Regnum Carya course has lights so resort guests can play at night.

The 16th tee at the Carya course is set up on the roof of one of the casitas to add a little extra distance and give everybody something to talk about. I asked a few players about it and they liked the added elevation. That’s not something you see every day.

Nor is the trophy presentation. The tournament trophy was delivered by a guy flying a hover board up the 18th fairways.

The tournament was regularly interrupted by Muslim calls to prayer from a nearby mosque. If you haven’t heard these, they’re played over loudspeakers five times a day. They’re very loud and last for a minute or two. Most of the players just played through them except one.

Padraig Harrington has to be the twitchiest player I’ve ever seen up close. He takes 5-6 practice swings on every shot and double that number when putting. If there’s an awkward looking blade of grass or a broken tee in his line of vision, he stops to remove it. If someone is moving on his intended line of vision within 100 yards, his caddy barks an order to stop and points out the offender. Padraig’s bionic hearing can detect an ant breathing at 25 yards. He lines putts up from at least three sides and NEVER hits any shot or putt before he’s absolutely ready.

You’d think this would drive his playing partners nuts but a) I suppose they’re used to it and b) he does all of this pretty quickly so he doesn’t appear to be slowing things down.

But it sure is odd to watch.

One final comment on the tournament. For most of the final round I was sitting on a retaining wall behind the 15th green, which is a reachable par-5. It was also directly in line with the players hitting off the roof on the 16th tee so they had to walk right in front of me after they hit their tee shots.

An elderly English gentleman was sitting beside me and his wife was on the other side. When I first sat down he made a couple of comments to me and I responded. When I did, his wife would shake her head. This guy sounded exactly like Peter Alliss, the former BBC golf commentator. As each player hit his shot into 15, my “friend” would offer his running commentary on the shot, “Good chance for an eagle there but he’s got to watch the slope of the green or that putt will get away from him.”

When a player putted out, my friend would add another comment like, “That eagle moves Rose to 16-under and he’s tied for the lead.”

When the players walked by after hitting their tee shots on 16, my friend would call them by name and sometimes comment on their last hole. “That putt breaks more than you think there Nico” (to Nicolas Colsaerts) or “Tough luck there Shane” (Lowry) after he dumped his approach in the water.

Finally, I think his wife had enough and announced she was going up to the 16th green to watch. As she went by me, she leaned over and said, “Best not to say anything. It just encourages him.”

Sometimes you see some strange things at golf tournaments but that was a first for me.

Peter Mumford is the Editor of Fairways Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @FairwaysMag.