Postcards from Australia: Galas and guffaws

Daily correspondence from Golfweek's writers on location in Australia...

Nov. 15: A good time had by all at Presidents Cup gala:

MELBOURNE, Australia – Sometimes when you put on a penguin suit and attend a black-tie affair, you might have to wash away the boredom with red or white wine. This wasn’t one of those nights.

The Presidents Cup gala Tuesday night at the Crown in downtown Melbourne provided several highlights, some of which raised eyebrows, some of which prompted smiles, some of which warranted punch lines.

The main entertainer, 27-year-old Australian singer named Delta Goodrem, put on a good show, dancing with Bubba Watson in the middle of the audience as she sang one song. Performers from the countries represented in the Presidents Cup also got on stage, and none were better than the New Zealanders. They did the Haka, the traditional ancestral war cry and dance of the Maori people of New Zealand. 

When they got done chanting and stomping their feet and waving their arms, one couldn’t help but think that perhaps Kiwi Steve Williams reacted that way when Tiger Woods fired him.

Despite all that entertainment, the two Cup captains, Greg Norman of the International side and Fred Couples of the United States, weren’t to be outdone. You might say they had a few interesting things to say, particularly the Shark, when called up on stage for a Q&A session with the gala emcee.

The master of ceremonies mentioned that the Internationals have never won in the United States, then added that they were undefeated in Melbourne, a reference to the 20 1/2-11 1/2 rout here in 1998. Norman couldn’t resist, blurting out, “And it’s going to stay that way.”

Yes, the American players were in the audience. It is unknown whether they choked on their filets.

Norman also elevated brows when he mentioned that the Internationals have had trouble with the alternate-shot format in past years.

“We got our asses handed to us in foursomes, excuse my French,” he said. “But we use stronger words in the team room.”

The Shark, though, wasn’t done drawing guffaws. When discussing the difficulty of Royal Melbourne, he used an analogy involving a hard-to-get woman. “She’ll give you a look up her skirt and then she’ll shut you down,” he said.

Couples was also sound-byte worthy.

Regarding the rout of 1998, he said, “Half of my guys were in diapers then, so they don’t even remember it.”

Couples also discounted his role as captain, saying he leans on veterans like Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker and David Toms.

“I’m not making a whole lot of decisions,” he said.

–Jeff Rude

• • •

View from the top: Golfweek writers Alex Miceli and Jeff Rude, along with Jeff's son, Scott.


Nov. 14: Postcards from the edge ... in Sydney

MELBOURNE, Australia – The seeds of the climb began with a simple question to Geoff Ogilvy in September: What should we do in Sydney? The first words out of his mouth were, “Climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge.”

And so we climbed the famous bridge the other day. At night. In the dark. A day after arriving. Jet lag still in play. In at least a one-club wind, not the best for someone 6 feet, 4 inches and with a high center of gravity.

I’m not saying I’m Mr. Magoo when it comes to night vision, but my sight in the dark is closer to Magoo’s than it is to Clark Kent’s. So, yeah, the palms were sweaty, the nerves were on full alert and at times I imagined tripping on my size 14 shoes and falling over the waist-high hand rails, only to dangle 440 feet above the water.

Here’s how it works: The fee is $200 for the climb and more for photos. When I first heard about the $200, I asked, “Do they pay me or do I pay them?”

You climb with a group of up to 14 people. You put on a jumpsuit that makes you look and feel like an astronaut. You wear a belt around your waist and are chained to a metal guard rail for the 3 1/2-hour trek.

I did it because my son, Scott, insisted. Scott is a detailed, long-term planner who says things like, “Would you like to have lunch at 1:17 p.m. on April 17?” He went to Europe last summer and had a 30-page itinerary, accounting for every minute, worked out well in advance. When he asks, “Do you have plans for Christmas?” he might be talking about 2013.

So I had little choice when he said, “We’re climbing the bridge when we get to Sydney.”

I was sandwiched between Scott and Alex Miceli on the walk up and over a 39,000-ton bridge that is 3,770 feet long and 161 feet wide. You might know Alex for his mustache or bow tie. I know him as Alvin, a label that has stuck because, well, he looks like an Alvin. Alvin has been known to be an emotional sort, so I was a bit worried about an argument or some jostling occurring 440 feet above the water, but he kept his hands to himself and his emotions in check.

I’m thinking the climb would have been easier during the day, when I could actually see where I was going. At times I couldn’t see a few feet in front of me. That means I often couldn’t see where my big feet would touch down going up and down steps or along skinny wooden planks.

It follows that I would think about tripping and going over the rails. I wondered if the cable connecting me to a rail would support my 230-pound body if I dangled over the edge. I imagined that my life would be summed up in a two-paragraph obit written by some blogger.

Some five minutes into the climb, the attractive female tour leader noticed I was walking slowly and asked, “Are you nervous?”

“Yeah, I’m a bit nervous, mainly because I can’t see where I’m going.”

She suggested I turn on the flashlight that was strapped around my neck. Good advice. The flashlight and a lot of deep breathing got me through the deal, or ordeal, particularly when climbing backwards down steps a few hundred feet above the water.

When we finished, the tour leader said we had just completed more than 1,430 steps of stairs. Felt like 14,000. My calves, still sore, agree.

A day or two later, I learned that someone fainted last week while climbing the bridge. It wasn’t me, but I understood.

It’s good to be back on the ground.

–Jeff Rude

• • •

Nov. 14: Aussie magpies emerge as talk of the town

MELBOURNE, Australia – Australia has many well-designed and fun golf courses. Yesterday, we experienced The National Golf Club, about 90 minutes outside of Melbourne, on the Bass Strait in southern Victoria.

With three courses designed by Robert Trent Jones (Old) Sr., Greg Norman (Moonah) and Peter Thomson (Ocean), the National generally has a links feel, with Mother Nature reeking havoc with your game via ocean winds.

In addition to the seabreeze, Mother Nature utilizes the magpie as a local distraction.

Signs posted in the pro shop and at the beginning of the back nine warn of “Swooping Magpies.”

The 10th, 11th and 12th holes are the farthest from the clubhouse. Clearly, the magpies think they are safe swooping onto unsuspecting golfers at the outer limits of the property.

Black and white, the Australian magpie (Cracticus tibicen) is accustomed to people and is highly aggressive during breeding season, which is August to October. Obviously the magpies of Cape Schanck, where The National is located, didn’t get the memo that breeding season is over.

Golfweek colleague Jeff Rude shared a story when he saw the sign on the 10th tee about Sam Snead and Byron Nelson.

“Snead told me that when Nelson was playing poorly, he would not say anything,” said Rude, recalling his conversation with Snead. “But when Nelson was playing well he would not stop talking, just like a magpie.”

Just another Monday in Australia.

G'day from Down Under.

–Alex Miceli

• • •

Nov. 11: Smooth travels deliver Golfweekers Down Under

SYDNEY, Australia – The ribbon on an Australian weekend has been cut, with the sun trying to peer through a cloud-filled sky over the city of Sydney a smidgen past 6 in the morning. There is no shortage of excitement here, with the Presidents Cup around the corner down in Melbourne and, filling the gap to get there, Tiger Woods back on top of a leaderboard at the Australian Open in Sydney. 

Golfweekers Jeff Rude, Jim McCabe and I touched down in Sydney mid-day yesterday after the long journey from the U.S. Senior writer Alex Miceli met us here after a few days in Tasmania (he was in China the week previous; in my next life, I aspire to return as his travel agent.) Our 15 hours of flying time from L.A. to Sydney was filled with a little sleep and, for me, four movies, some new, a few a bit older than the others. How’s this for a little Hollywood variety: “When Harry Met Sally,” “Hall Pass,” “Brides Maids,” and a historic first for me, “Casablanca.” (Check that one off life’s To Do list.) Jeff Rude flew a handful of rows behind me, and could not have been overly enthused boarding the plane in L.A. when he saw a mother place a baby in a carseat into the seat next to him. Did we mention this flight was 15 hours? But Jeff later paid a visit and proclaimed this no-crying bambino “the best baby in the entire world.”

Sydney is a terrific city. It was bustling last night down near the harbor, with folks all dolled up to take in some entertainment at the famed Sydney Opera House. Trying to get our body clocks in some sort of proper order, we wandered down town for a couple pale ales and had some interesting conversations with the locals. One young Sydney investment banker told me he takes a few weeks every year to travel across to the States. Asked where he’s been, he told me it would be quicker for him to tell me where he hasn’t. It was Kansas most recently, and he’s aspires to get to the North and South Dakotas. As beautiful as that is, I had to ask him, “Have you ever been to Boston?” No, he told me. So I said, “OK, let’s put that one in front of the Dakotas.” 

Aussies do love their sports. There was a big cricket test match taking part in South Africa last night which had the locals’ attention, and I’m pleased to see the television in my hotel has plenty to offer. The variety is impressive. Why, as I get ready for the day, my viewing options include  a triathlon, a junior football (soccer) match, cricket highlights, ATP tennis from Paris and a volleyball match pitting Australia against Sri Lanka. The Raiders-Chargers game was aired via ESPN yesterday afternoon, and I’m told an Irish pub in town shows many of the college football games. Have to love that. 

As for the golf, a familiar name graces the top of the Australian Open leaderboard this morning. Can Tiger Woods get it done? The weekend edition of the Sydney Morning Herald asked its readers if Woods, his last victory coming in this country two years ago, is ready to win again this weekend. 

Their response: A rousing 72 percent voted “Yes.” Optimistic bunch. 

We’ll be here reporting for 12 days, and checking in with some postcards throughout. Until we meet again . . .  here’s lookin’ at you, kid.

– Jeff Babineau

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