Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson pair up in charity game that could see more than $1m won on final hole

James Corrigan
The Telegraph
Rory McIlroy will feature in the event on Sunday - PA
Rory McIlroy will feature in the event on Sunday - PA

While sports fans might find the sight of professionals finally playing golf live on television again on Sunday evening quite enough of a blessed curiosity, there will be other rare sightings when Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson take on Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff in a charity skins game for the coronavirus relief funds.

Obviously, it will be a supporter-less spectacle in Florida and that will stick out, but so, too, will the fact that the pros are carrying their own bags.

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“We were going to play in carts, but I was against that,” McIlroy said. “This is going to be the first time we are showcasing golf trying to get out of this Covid-19 era, and I think it’s a good way to show you can socially-distance and above all that golf can be good for you when you are walking, carrying your clubs, instead of being in a cart, jumping on and off. This will be a really good image for the game.”

Then there is the swing of 21-year-old Wolff, a unique motion if ever there has been one. If you have yet to witness this mesmerising mishmash of leg kicks, double-jointed hip turns, trailing elbows and outlandish club loops, that somehow come together to generate absurd power, then tune in.

Yet for all of us golf nerds out there, it is the course and scenery itself that will provide the greatest sense of wonder. Seminole is the Howard Hughes of golf layouts. It has all the riches but is never seen.

Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy - AP
Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy - AP

“This will be the first time that Seminole has ever been on TV,” McIlroy said, noting there is no footage whatsoever, even on YouTube. “To tell you the truth, that’s the way I like it, but on Sunday, people are in for a real treat. In the States, there are mainly country clubs and they have other things going on – swimming pools, tennis courts and gyms and big social things. Seminole is just a pure golf course. Golf, nothing else. Everyone walks.

“Jimmy Dunne [the club president] a few years ago took out all the benches to speed up play. There is a note on the first tee that reads: ‘Play good, play fast. Play bad, play faster.’ They are very proud of the fact that they can get a fourball round in just over three hours. It’s real golf.”

Well, “real” to the extent that it is an unreachable fantasyland to the average, and even way-above average golfer. Seminole, situated in Juno Beach, a town in Palm Beach County which is a short drive from where McIlroy and so many of the top pros reside, is a Donald Ross design that was built in 1929.

Edward VIII became a member after abdicating the crown and would mix with Joseph P Kennedy (JFK’s father) and Henry Ford II and a list of presidents including Dwight D Eisenhower. McIlroy’s father, Gerry, is a member – “I’m not sure how Dad got in,” McIlroy quipped – and in the last few months they have welcomed Tom Brady, the recent acquisition of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

 

Seminole is listed as one of the Big Four – along with Augusta National, Pine Valley and Cypress Point – in the United States and remains exclusive to the point of being almost mythical. Every year in March, its status is confirmed in the Pro-Member tournament.

In 2019, seven of the world’s top nine accepted the (unpaid) invitation. For 91 years, Seminole has fiercely protected its privacy, but a few years ago agreed to host next year’s Walker Cup. There followed this unique opportunity to assist a pressing cause. Every year in March, its status is confirmed in the Member-Pro tournament.

At a little over 6,800 yards as a 72-par, it is titchy by modern standards, but if the wind is compliant it remains a torrid challenge. “You cannot overpower Seminole,” McIlroy told the McKellar golf podcast. “It’s got four or five of the best-designed greens you’ll ever see. It’s quite possibly the best second-shot course you’ll play anywhere. It’s Donald Ross’s masterpiece.”

What the old Dornoch architect would have made of this spectacle is anyone’s guess. The quartet are sponsored by the same equipment manufacturer – it is officially called “TaylorMade Driving Relief” – and will provide a contrast of styles.

There will inevitably be a sense of “exhibition” about proceedings, but with $4 million (£3.3 million) up for grabs for their respective Covid-19 charities, there will be tension. It could come down to the 18th, with more than $1 million on the line. Another first for Seminole. Maybe.

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