"Golf offers escape and relief from coronavirus"

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As we head towards a second Covid-19 lockdown across England, TG columnist and BBC commentator Andrew Cotter explains why golf offers enormous relief and escape from Coronavirus.

The champions dinner of hermetically-sealed takeaway food. The azaleas and magnolias lying dormant amidst light flurries of snow. And the sanitised Green Jacket being handed over by Tiger Woods – dangling it on a stick from six feet away, while Jim Nantz mumbles something from behind a mask.

Yes, it’s going to be odd, but isn’t everything at the moment? And if you think that watching sport is currently a rather strange experience, you should try commentating on it. Granted, my experience of such things is fairly limited as I have only had five days’ sports broadcasting since the beginning of March – a situation about which my accountant is all too keen to remind me. In fact, just bear with me as I do my VAT return for this quarter – there… done it.

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But the few days when I have found myself saying stuff into a microphone, while people hit balls or run fast, have been distinctly unsettling. Wearing masks almost constantly except for the moments when you need to speak, screens between you and your fellow commentators. Trying to raise the voice in exciting passages of play and feeling rather foolish without any crowd noise to assist you. Also, far more often we find ourselves commentating off monitors in Manchester or London as opposed to being at the venue itself. But if that is the only option, then I’m grateful to have it at all.

Yes, for financial reasons and much more besides, I’m looking forward to The Masters immensely.

Even without patrons, the Masters will offer welcome relief for golf fans.

We need it. For all of us it will provide a diversion and light relief during the fallout and possible legal proceedings after a smooth and dignified American presidential election. It will be a welcome change from a relentless feed of news items so gloomy that, if you watch for too long, threatens to melt your face like the Nazi officers opening the Ark of the Covenant in Indiana Jones.

Currently, life is not fun and this is where sport plays its part. This is the responsibility all governing bodies have now to make sport happen and this is where sports people can offer something more. Even in individual sports, they are now not just performing for themselves, but for all of us, no matter what the conditions.

Of course, Augusta should be mild enough in November for play to be perfectly possible – probably no different to many Open Championships in mid-July. Besides, even if the worst does occur and a weather system moves down from the northern states, then Augusta National has the resources to lift the course and clubhouse and transport it, pieceby piece, to Richard Branson’s island in the Caribbean, where play will continue.

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But however it unfolds – if things are not quite normal, or not ideal – then so be it. Everybody involved, whether playing, watching or commentating, has to realise that they have to adapt in these remarkable times.

I couldn’t help noticing, during the French Open tennis, that there were some gripes from competitors. Indeed, former world number one Victoria Azarenka walked off court during her first round match complaining that it was too cold and that she was used to playing in Florida. Perfectly understandable Victoria – so sorry that we couldn’t arrange an ideal temperature for you during this global crisis. Fortunately she remedied the situation by getting trounced in the second round.

2020 has been a bizarre and testing year for golf and the wider world.

So, no, things are not perfect in sport. They are, frankly, bizarre. But things are far less perfect for so many people in all walks of life just now. I have sat in restaurants and felt for the staff who are exposed and dealing with so much protocol and procedure, but have no other choice.

People are simply doing what they can to hang on to employment, everybody just trying to get through this and think about how much better it will all be on the other side.

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And if, until then, sport can offer a bit of fun, then it has never been more important. When all else appears bleak, sport can offer genuine escape and relief. A real splash of colour and for that we
are thankful.

So, even at a distance and in strange circumstances, I’m so glad that we can watch The Masters in November. And we can look forward with hope to being back there, in a very different and far brighter world in the spring.

Part of the BBC commentary team, Andrew Cotter grew up tackling Ayrshire’s links and plays off 3. His new book, Olive, Mabel and Me, is available here. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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