AS Sam Torrance walked on to the 18th tee, the galleries up on the green looked down the hill where hundreds of spectators slowly gathered to watch his final drive of the day at Rockliffe Hall.
The vast majority of his followers had stayed with him for the entire opening round of the English Senior Open: From the moment he pulled his first drive of the day in to the light rough on the right, to the inglorious finale when he missed a short putt for par at the last.
This was not Torrance’s day, but those who followed his every move will still have enjoyed sharing the afternoon with one of European golf’s biggest names spanning the late 70s through to the 90s. Even now, despite the fact he turns 61 tomorrow, his pulling power remains strong and clear to see in County Durham.
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He is the first to admit that his first experience of Rockliffe Hall’s 6,987-yard track did not go as well as planned. Despite occasionally threatening to, Torrance never really looked like recovering from his early bogey at the first.
And when he emerged from the scorers hut, having posted a three-over 75, the likeable man from North Ayrshire was clearly frustrated with how things went. “It’s my first time here, it’s very good, but I’m getting a bit old for courses this long,” he said.
To somehow muster some light-hearted humour when things have not gone so well has become something of a trademark of his and those who walked round with him yesterday will have heard it on more than one occasion.
It has been explained over the years how he believes humour is a way of releasing a valve to make the golf experience enjoyable rather an ordeal – and that was evident from his very first hole as he dropped his first shot of the day.
When his long fringe putt for a birdie rolled towards the hole it drew applause from the spectators at the back of the green. It then gathered pace at just the wrong time, curling away from the hole to leave Torrance with a tricky putt for par.
He simply looked in the direction of those clapping the loudest and, in his own witty way, said ‘thank you’ knowing full well that it was pretty much for nothing. He missed his next putt, meaning a bogey five to get things started.
After telling a few of those watching on the third green to “keep quiet, please”, he found a resilience and a steady run right through until the 11th green. Included among that run of pars was a brilliant birdie at the sixth.
After pulling on his blue jumper as the temperature dropped at Hurworth, he proceeded to hit his tee shot to the back of the green before rolling in a sweet ten-footer with his belly-putter. It was the sort of quality which reminded everyone of the player who made it to eight Ryder Cups as a player.
Rather than build on that, however, his afternoon deteriorated. He bogeyed 12 and then 13 to drop back to two over. But it was at the last where things really got to a man who only made his first competitive appearance in eight months a week ago.
After approaching to the back right of the green, he needed two further putts before he dropping in a joke at his own expense to make the galleries chuckle after bringing an end to his round of 75.
“The best way to approach this is to try to make light of it, but I’m not going to be very happy after a round like that,” said Torrance. “You have to try to enjoy it, but I played very poorly. I played poor shots at the wrong time. I wouldn’t say I didn’t enjoy it, but I didn’t play well.”
Torrance only returned to action at the SSE Scottish Open at Fairmont St Andrews, the course he designed, but the grief at the passing of his father, a renowned coach, Bob, last month remains at the forefront of his mind. His mere appearance in the circumstances at Rockliffe deserves praise.
His absence earlier in the year means he has not had particularly high expectations on the Senior Tour circuit in which he has finished number one on the Order of Merit three times. Such success stories highlight just how strong he is beneath the wisecracks.
And that is why Paul McGinley, the Team Europe captain for the Ryder Cup next month, has turned to Torrance to be a vice-captain to face the American because the Scot knows how to deal with pressure as they look for a tenth win from 14 Ryder Cups.
Torrance, who skippered Europe to success at The Belfry in 2002, thinks there is every chance they can deliver. He said: “Europe look strong at the moment. We have a very strong team. Four of the top five in the world are European the other is Australian, although you can never under estimate your opponents.”
After a frustrating afternoon at Rockliffe Hall it was understandable that Torrance did not choose to expand on the Ryder Cup too much, so the focus overnight was trying to improve on today’s second round.
He said: “I was three over par, I have not been playing and I played last week which was my first time for seven months. I was very rusty, but still enjoy it. I’m just not going to be exactly bouncing am I?”