The first thing foreigners notice about Royal Melbourne is its rugged beauty. There are no frills here – just a masterpiece of understated golf architecture, with its rolling hills and striking bunkers and treacherous green complexes.
The second thing they notice, it seems, are the flies.
So, so, so many freakin’ flies.
“Royal Melbourne is well-known for the golf,” Tony Finau said. “I think it should be known for the flies first.”
The Australian bush flies – or, for the more scientifically inclined, musca vetustissima – have been everywhere so far at this week’s Presidents Cup. It hasn’t been quite Joba Chamberlain-2007-ALDS bad, but it’s been close. They hover around your eyes. They congregate on your chest to shield themselves from the wind. Heck, they’d fly into your mouth if you’d let them. According to the Atlas of Living Australia, females are particularly drawn to human flesh as a source of protein to nourish their eggs.
Everyone on the grounds has done a version of the “Aussie salute,” which involves waving your hand in front of your face to shoo away flies. The problem is, playing golf requires both hands to be on the club, meaning there is a window for the pesky little bugs to wreak havoc. A slight movement can be the difference between a good swing and a bad one, between winning a hole and losing one, between capturing a point and surrendering one.
Justin Thomas knows this. On Monday, he had a three-footer for birdie while playing a match against his Team USA teammates. A fly buzzed directly into his ear. He flinched. It missed. There’s no reason to believe a similar scenario won’t take place when the putts actually count for something.
“The flies have been absolutely horrible,” Gary Woodland said. “I had heard about it before I got here, but it’s even worse than I thought. I don’t know how to get rid of them. They are … they’re everywhere, especially on the tee shots. The tee boxes are surrounded.
“It’s pretty bad. I mean, you’re going to have to back off. … You just hope they don’t blow in your face when you’re swinging. It’s a problem, for sure.”
A problem, and not a new one. It’s why bug spray exists. But bug spray has long been one of the more polarising products – there are always those who swear it attracts insects, rather than repels them – and there are a number of doubters embedded in this American squad.
“I’ve never worn spray,” Rickie Fowler said. “I haven’t tried it out. I think some of the guys were saying it seemed like it was more like candy for them, and maybe attracted them even more. Maybe they found a way to be immune to the spray.”
The good news is, at least according to native Aussie and amateur meteorologist Cameron Smith, the worst of it should be in the rearview mirror.
“Where I grew up in Brisbane, they’re probably a bit worse down here. But I think over the next couple of days, with the south wind, they’ll eventually go away. When it’s hot, when we got that north wind on Monday, they were so bad. But they tend to go away when it’s a bit cooler.”
We can only hope.