In the last of this semester’s series, Daryl Bolger talks privileges and heroes from the heart of China
Life in Shanghai has carried on in much the same vein since the last report. That is to say, it’s been completely hectic and the surprises that have come our way have been nothing short of unbelievable. In fact, were pictures not taken, I would have believed one particular weekend was a dream; a ridiculous one at that.
The weekend in question was when the HSBC Champions Golf tournament, one of the sport’s more prestigious events, rolled into town. With it came the world’s best players and its most famous adulterer. It was an opportunity not to be missed. When you fluke getting small plastic tickets labelled ‘Player’s Guests’, it represents an opportunity that happens only once in a lifetime.
Never has such a small piece of plastic, worn around our necks, wielded such benefits. The player’s clubhouse, the media centre, the driving range and many more areas were ours to explore. The only other people allowed in these areas were people employed by the tour; golfers, caddies, etc.
This, of course, meant that we had free access to many of the world’s best players. While Woods and Mickleson left quickly and discreetly after their rounds, many players didn’t. It was these golfers that we had the privilege of meeting. Three of the four current major winners – McDowell, Kaymer and Oosthuizen – all stopped for pictures and to sign our memorabilia. The two men from up north, McDowell and McIlroy, were especially sound, bringing us outside to get better pictures, giving us hats and chatting to us about home.
After most players had left on the Saturday, we tried our luck lining up for the official tournament BMW’s to bring us back to the players’ hotel – where we were not staying.
Our efforts paid off. After seeing the girls jump into one car, myself and my housemate, Colin, jumped into another – only, we got into a car with one of the player’s riding shotgun. No one big: Danny Willett was his name. However, it’s a situation I doubt I’ll ever find myself in again in my lifetime; in a chauffeur-driven car, with a player, going to the players’ hotel.
The Sunday was much the same: we met Rickie Fowler and several other players. However, once the day’s play ended, it became a different ball game altogether.
Through a loose connection, we had met Padraig Harrington the day before and had a good chat with him for several minutes after his media interviews. After his round on the Sunday, he managed a bit more time for us, manoeuvring seemingly dozens of Chinese fans out of the way so that we could all get pictures with him. Strangely, the dozens of Chinese then took pictures of us with Padraig.
Not long after leaving Padraig, the clubhouse began to clear out. While outside talking to some of the tour officials, Francesco Molinari (the tournament champion) was whisked into a car behind our backs. Seeing an opportunity most wouldn’t have, myself and a friend walked straight into the players’ locker rooms.
Divided between six changing rooms, a pool, a physiotherapist, a washing area and an area for sinks and vanity, the facilities were something to behold. It wasn’t long before we had found the now-empty lockers of Els and Mickleson. Moving on, we took in the sheer opulence of the bathing areas. Talking to people who have seen the best in Ireland, I was told it’s immeasurably superior.
On our way back out, said friend spotted one bag left in the locker area; that of the winner: Francesco Molinari. Seizing our chance, we grabbed a golf ball each and headed off to the players’ hotel, again in a tournament car.
There, after using Molinari’s golf ball for a game of foosball, we went back to the bar to buy ourselves a drink when Padraig came across to buy them for us. From there, we talked away for an hour about everything, from Premiership football, to the magic of sling boxes. We also recounted his magnificent albatross the day before, for which I had the fortune of being the closest spectator.
The whole situation is beginning to seem a bit ridiculous that we’ve had the fortune of meeting such Irish sporting greats, in China especially. Padraig and the other golfers seemed completely unaffected by their fame. And the efforts they went to for us, who they had never met before, was astonishing.
They say you should never meet your heroes. Whoever ‘they’ are, they’ve clearly never met mine.