USUALLY you can spend a week at a big golf tournament and not really be aware of what is happening in the outside world.
I’m not claiming for certain that if World War Three did actually break out during a major golfing event that golfers and their fans wouldn’t really notice, whether they would still be more concerned with other issues, such as how much run there is on the fairways, how fast the greens are playing, how hard the wind is likely to be in the afternoon; and why such and such in such great/poor form.
But here at the 2019 Australian Open things are different. Professional golfers coming off the course talk not just about their scores, and whether they are sinking their pressure putts or not; but the fact that they can’t see the sky – or often their balls mid-flight – because of all the smoke from bushfires.
The smoke was heavy during the first round on Thursday and mid-afternoon there was an eerie yellow glow enveloping the entire course and its surrounds.
On Friday the smoke during the day was a little better, perhaps because of lighter winds, but later in the afternoon the eerie yellow glow returned.
Through the smoke haze the sun was a strange, bright red orb.
I’m sitting here in the media centre and I really should be writing a story entirely about how a particular golfer, in this case Matt Jones, is on 10-under after two rounds and is leading the star studded international field by a single stroke.
All I can think of is that Jones, who spent much of his childhood here playing golf at The Australian Golf Club, not all that far from the Sydney CBD, has never seen anything like this.
“It’s not the easiest to breathe, our eyes have definitely been stinging quite a bit,” Jones, now a resident of the US, told the media after his second round.
“I’ll be happy to get inside and get in the air conditioning. I won’t be doing anything else for the rest of the day. Hopefully rest and get a good night’s sleep.”
Coming joint second was South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen, who after struggling through the smoke on Thursday afternoon, was much happier with conditions on Friday morning.
“Yeah, you could actually see the sky,” Oosthuizen said.
I have a bit of a rule when it comes to golf, which is mostly borrowed from the Sacred Hairdressers’ Code: never talk about religion or politics; which is great because that must mean you can talk about science all you want.
I’m not sure if in its 104 year history the Australian Open has ever been played when bushfires ringed the hosting city; whether it has ever been played when it seemed much of the east coast of the country is burning – I’m sure some old codger (I’m one) might come out and recall the great “fires of 44” – or whatever – but one thing is for sure: this is getting serious.
Australia might be a sunburnt country, a land of droughts and flooding rains. But this is ridiculous.
Heck and golly gee, the climate is starting to interfere with the golf!
All the promotional posters for this year’s Australian Open have a picture of some well known golfers with the background of the Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge and the words: “Engraved in History”. That statement might might very well prove to be the case.