Home' Australian Golf Digest : July 2017 Contents 30 australiangolfdigest.com.au | july 2017
HE 1997 Johnnie Walker Classic at
Hope Island Resort on Queensland’s
Gold Coast boasted a stellar cast with
Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, John Daly,
Ernie Els, Ian Woosnam and Fred Couples as
Colin Montgomerie, Wayne Grady and
Ian Baker-Finch were also in the field along
with future Major champions Paul Lawrie,
Vijay Singh, Michael Campbell, Padraig
Harrington and Darren Clarke.
It was undoubtedly one of the best fields
ever assembled for a tournament in the
Southern Hemisphere. Yet it was a New
Zealand journeyman who threatened to
upset the established hegemony.
Michael Long, a 28-year-old from Cromwell
in Central Otago, had played his way into
contention and was paired with 1994 US Open
champion Els for the final two rounds. Long
was in good form, having captured the New
Zealand Open just seven weeks earlier.
Long’s play at Hope Island was the type
of performance he had promised to deliver
following an impressive amateur career
when he netted four of New Zealand’s most
Playing in the penultimate group on
Sunday afternoon, Long was going shot for
shot with Els at the top of the leaderboard. He
trailed by one stroke upon reaching the 15th
green, which he had hit in regulation and was
35 feet from the hole. Els had pitched on and
faced a tricky eight-footer for par.
Long’s ball was sitting on a little kikuyu
runner on the edge of the green. He had lined
up the ball with his handwritten dot on the
top. But when he addressed the ball Long
noticed the dot was no longer facing upwards.
He called over Els, who asked if he was
certain the ball had moved from its original
position. Long conceded it had. He replaced
the ball with a one-stroke penalty. His
35-footer for par lipped out and he took
a bogey 5. Els holed his par putt and the
margin was two strokes.
Els birdied 16 to extend his lead to three.
Long birdied the 17th to bring the margin
back to two. Els bogeyed the last hole and
Long’s unrealistic birdie putt from 40 feet
slid underneath the cup.
Australian Peter Lonard holed a lengthy putt
on the 18th to tie Long for second place. Couples,
Faldo and Anthony Painter were another three
strokes behind in a tie for fourth.
Hence, the penalty stroke Long called
upon himself proved the difference. It’s little
consolation that if the ball now moves on the
green – and the player isn’t deemed to have
moved it – there is no penalty.
Long is philosophical about the incident:
“It was up to the player to decide whether they
have addressed the ball or not ... As far as I
was concerned, I was ready to hit the ball and
the ball moved.
“It was a little bit windy, a little bit wet and
the ball moved. I don’t think I caused it to
move. Again, it’s the rules.”
Fellow players were effusive in their
praise. “Gentlemen play this game,” Els said
afterwards. “In tennis, when you hit it close
to the lines it’s in the hands of the linesmen
or umpire. But in golf we take it on ourselves
... He’s a great guy and he’ll have his day soon.”
Long was honoured later that year with a
‘Fair Play’ award from clothing manufacturer
Pringle, which he accepted from Prince
Andrew at a castle near Loch Lomond,
Scotland. His sportsmanship was deemed
more impressive than the selfless act of a
sailor who stopped mid-race to try to rescue
the stricken yacht of Tony Bullimore during
the Vendee Globe around-the-world race.
“It was all very nice the attention it got for
the game,” recalls Long. “What I did was
what you should do in the game. It’s great
that people can see that honesty and that we
do play by the rules out there.”
The 1997 Johnnie Walker victory provided
Els with the confidence and momentum to
capture a second US Open title five months
later. However, it would be two more years
before Long would triumph, winning the rich
Greg Norman Holden International at The
Lakes in Sydney.
Then, in December 1999, Long sustained
a broken neck from a boogie board accident
near his home in Perth. He recovered from
that career-threatening injury and played
two full seasons on the US PGA Tour. Now
aged 48 with seven career victories, Long
has returned to playing fulltime on the PGA
Tour of Australasia and is planning to enter
qualifying school for the Champions Tour.
It’s now 20 years since his noble act of
sportsmanship at the Johnnie Walker, which
is all the more poignant given recent rules
controversies involving Dustin Johnson and
Lexi Thompson in Major championships.
It’s been said that sports do not build
character. They reveal it. And that’s a reason
why Michael Long should be remembered
for his integrity on that Sunday afternoon
on the Gold Coast.
The Golf Life What Really Happened
New Zealand's Michael Long was hailed for his integrity after
calling a penalty on himself in the closing stages of the 1997
Johnnie Walker Classic. By ROHAN CLARKE
HONEST AS THE
DAY IS LONG
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