While Sweden’s Henrik Stenson and America’s Phil Mickelson were slugging it out for the coveted Claret Jug in the recent Open Golf Championship at Royal Troon, few of the millions of TV viewers noticed the vital role of sharp-eyed Portadown-born David Boyle.
David, a retired obstetrician and gynaecologist, was referee for the heart-stopping final-day shoot-out. It was described by Jack Nicklaus, as golf’s greatest-ever duel, eclipsing even ‘The Golden Bear’s’ famed duel in the sun with Tom Watson (Turnberry 1977) which Watson won by a single shot.
“Who am I to argue with Nicklaus?” recalled David (aged 71 and still playing off a handicap of eight at his ‘home’ course of Royal County Down). “To say it was special would be an under-statement. This was golfing history and it was such an honour to view it at such close range.”
A former captain at Royal County Down, David was elected to the R&A Championship Committee and referees’ panel some years ago. He has refereed for the likes of Tom Watson, Jim Furky, Darren Clarke and Padraig Harrington. The Open was his penultimate match, his last one being at the forthcoming British Boys’ Championship at Muirfield from August 9-14 “which I particularly enjoy”.
He started his education at Portadown College Prep School, after which he became a boarder at Campbell College. His many friends in the town include David Jeffers, Ron Mullen and Bryan Mortimer. He now lives in Holywood, and served most of his career at The Royal Maternity in Belfast. One of his colleagues was David Lowry who moved to Craigavon Area Hospital, is retired and still lives in town.
Recalling the Henrik-Mickelson duel, David said, “I’ve never seen, nor refereed, golf like it. Going into the final day, Henrik was minus-12 and Mickelson minus-11, with the field five shots behind. They could still have been caught. But when it ended with Henrik minus-20 and Mickelson three behind, it was unbelievable. Who can remember that J.B. Holmes (America) was third on minus-six?” David’s fellow Holywood man McIlroy was the best of the Brits, fifth equal on minus-five.
“It has to be recognised that Mickelson and Henrik had the best of the weather over the four days, with Troon experiencing everything from heavy squalls to blazing sunshine,” said David.
He added that it was difficult to concentrate on refereeing as the pair matched one another shot-for-shot until they reached the 18th tee where the Swede was two ahead and birdied the last.
“He also three-putted the first and 11th and missed eminently hole-able putts and seven and 11,” said David. “His 20-under was an Open record – I’ll never forget it.”