x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Grady is right on course

The veteran Australian golfer tells Desmond Kane that he is relishing Greg Norman's design in Dubai.

Wayne Grady celebrates after hitting a hole in one before this year's Masters tournament at Augusta.
Wayne Grady celebrates after hitting a hole in one before this year's Masters tournament at Augusta.

TROON // Amid the commotion of the final round of the British Open last weekend Wayne Grady, working as a TV commentator, appeared to be giving Greg Norman so much support that one would not have been surprised if he had suddenly taken leave of his senses and bellowed out a golfing version of the classic Australian cricket anthem "C'mon Aussie C'mon". The pair go back a long way or, as a typical Australian would say, remain good mates.

Apart from being Queensland natives, they are both in their 50s, have both won major titles, both lost a play-off for the British Open championship here at Troon on the same day in 1989 and are both heavily involved in course design. Grady believes Norman is as dedicated to his role as an architect as he was when he was ranked the world's best player for more than 300 weeks in the 1980s and 1990s.

Grady was not, as he likes to describe some players's woes on TV "coming home in an ambulance" yesterday, but he was annoyed about failing to catapult himself into contention to win the Senior British Open here. His mood lifted when he began to give his views on Norman's ability as a designer. Norman spoke ahead of this tournament about the substantial changes he has made to the new Earth course that will host the Dubai World Championship next November, which will be the richest tournament in the sport with a prize fund of $10million (Dh36.7m).

Grady feels that Norman will approach the realisation of the Earth course with as much relish as a great white shark tackling a piece of chum. "Generally, you expect a pretty a good course," he says. "Norman does decent stuff. I like a lot of his courses. I know that it's one big desert out there, but that should give him plenty of scope to build an exciting course. "His courses in Australia are good. The bunkering is always quite similar, but generally they are very tough.

"The key to establishing a good course these days is to make sure it can suit the long and shorter hitter, so it's not just about how far you are knocking it through the air. "That's what designers are striving for, and I'm sure Greg's course in Dubai will be exciting for such an important event. "I'm looking forward to seeing it when it's finished." Grady defeated Norman in a play-off for the Australian PGA in 1988, but the pair were left reeling when Mark Calcavecchia usurped them in a four-hole play-off for the British Open title a year later.

Despite that disappointment, Grady recovered to claim the US PGA championship at Shoal Creek in 1990 with a three-stroke winning margin over Fred Couples. His victory enabled him to join Norman and players of the calibre of Peter Thomson as one of a handful of Australian men to win a major. Norman had the chance of a third Claret Jug after leading the Open at Birkdale last weekend with only nine holes remaining, only for the defending champion Padraig Harrington to overtake him.

Unperturbed by his failure, he feels the conditions at Troon's neighbouring course Turnberry could stimulate him into a bid for the Open title next year. Grady agrees, but does not believe Norman's efforts in challenging for a major is going to be a regular occurrence. "I think it was a one-off, to be honest," he says. "It might happen again, but it will be an occasional thing and not something that you will see as the norm, because by the time you get to 50 you do struggle.

"Vijay Singh and even Phil Mickelson are already that long as drivers that it might not affect them, but when you get older you lose your drive. When you get older, you don't bounce back as well as you used to when you were a kid. You just get old. "There is more chance of an older player doing well at a links course, because of the way they play. "You can move the ball around, and you have to use your head around these places. It's not all about how far you hit it."

Like the two-time Open champion Norman, Grady was playing at Troon for the first time since losing the Open 19 years ago. He led that tournament from the second round, and only a bogey on the par three 17th on the final day placed him back into a tie with Norman and Calcavecchia. "It's very nice being back at Troon. It's been a lot of fun. It's not changed a lot," he says. There was also the chance to play in the same field as Norman.

In an understated tone, Grady added: "I was hoping he would be worn out this week, but he still seems to be doing alright." @Email:dkane@thenational.ae Visit www.thenational.ae/sport to find out who won the tournament