Masters 2017: English golfers’ excellent showing deserves recognition | Ewan Murray

Ewan Murray at Augusta National
Justin Rose, with his caddie Mark Fulcher, worked his way up the Masters leaderboard on day three, finishing on top. Photograph: Andrew Redington/Getty Images

It seems poetic that the popular song with swing as an opening word is the domain of those at Twickenham. International rugby players are among those to be afforded greater profile and status in England than golfers who continue to joust with the best in the world. Taking the latter for granted would be a grave error, as would not building on their relatively incredible success.

If the arrival of 11 English golfers at the Masters was notable enough – and it should have been – the fact that Justin Rose, Lee Westwood and Paul Casey began the final day with live hopes of claiming the first major of 2017 is deserving of heavy recognition. This is a tournament won in sensational fashion by a Yorkshireman 12 months ago. Nonetheless, step outside golf’s bubble and little or nothing is made of this.

The same applies to Westwood’s previous extended time as world No1, or the identical ranking position when held by Luke Donald. When compared with other sports, and in spite of an apparent lack of interest, golf is hugely over-performing. In the meantime cricketers become red carpet socialites.

Would Tyrrell Hatton, ranked 15th in the world, be recognised on the high streets of his home country? Rose claimed gold in thrilling fashion last summer in Rio, a key advocate of golf’s return to the Games carrying the flag in the perfect style, as cyclists and pommel horse gymnasts dominated the Olympic narrative. They had trained for four years, you know.

When Nick Faldo charged towards six major titles in the late 1980s and 1990s he stood alone as England’s outstanding golfer. For a spell he was unquestionably the best in the world, for all that Faldo lacked an endearing personality to back that up. For a country now to have more personable representatives and strength in depth should be heralded.

Matters of residence must be considered in the cases of Rose and Casey, who now call the Bahamas and the United States, respectively, home. That said, Mo Farah can be found in Oregon rather than Oxford on any given Wednesday. Westwood, Hatton, Danny Willett, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Andy Sullivan, Tommy Fleetwood and Ross Fisher are all English-based. There is no sense of regular swamping from autograph hunters or primetime television slots.

The flag of St George appears beside four names in the top 17 ranked players in the world. That is second solely to the United States and there are 12 in the top 100, outshining Spain (three), Australia (four), Sweden (two) and South Africa (five). Scotland is admittedly a considerably smaller country but the Home of Golf is exposed as a tourism tag when the nation’s production of golfers is compared with that of its neighbour.

Ireland’s recent major champions list is extraordinary yet even those who have not scaled the game’s greatest heights, such as Shane Lowry, are afforded esteemed status at home. Ireland celebrates what the English ignore.

Perhaps this is golf’s problem. Perhaps the widespread failure to recognise England’s current crop is indicative of golf’s current position in the grand scheme of sport. Maybe the golfers themselves do not do enough to raise their profile in the country of their birth, unless commercial contracts are at stake. It is also possible that they rather enjoy the quiet life.

Eight months had passed since Willett won the Masters but a pitifully low vote at December’s Sports Personality of the Year awards did not seem remotely appropriate for someone who had claimed such a renowned event. Willett’s position on the shortlist triggered little over 2,000 calls in support, which represented a tenth of Jamie Vardy’s share and 32,000 fewer than those for Kate Richardson-Walsh, an Olympic hockey player.

Willett’s triumph, his country’s first Green Jacket in two decades, easily outshone anything the England football team had done for 50 years. If an English tennis player progresses to the heady heights of Wimbledon’s third round, a nation collectively reaches for the bunting. Heroes are forged. When Fitzpatrick benefited from Hatton’s 72nd-hole error at a marquee European Tour event in Dubai last November, it was not even deemed worthy of a mention on BBC news bulletins.

That broadcast outlet is pertinent. Faldo was dominant in a terrestrial age. The R&A vehemently defends its decision to switch the Open rights to Sky Sports but the loss of latent golf viewers cannot be ignored. Sky could produce the most perfect and insightful coverage imaginable but, if it does not attract anything like a BBC audience – and it does not – then golf will surely suffer. There is a gradual removal of players from the public’s consciousness.

The ludicrous discriminatory policy that has historically held sway over certain golf clubs is a drawback for the sport in general, regardless of country. Professional victories and challenges will be offset in the eyes of many by the perception of this not being a sport worthy of involvement. Thankfully, we are generally far removed from that prehistoric time. In England, specifically, there has never been a stronger case for golf’s defence.

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