Golf: A Novice at the Open

Normally, I don’t do queues. Can’t stand them. Which probably explains why my 1970s North Melbourne autograph book is full of names of players I cannot remember: even as a starry-eyed youngster, I just never had the patience to stand in line and wait for either Schimma or Blighty’s autograph. So it is fair to say that my current European jaunt has meant some slight adjustments to my “no queuing” philosophy. For, despite employing strategies to combat standing in line (such as rising at sparrow’s fart to get to the Eiffel Tower), sometimes it is unavoidable.

It was with this newfound, albeit grudging, acceptance that stood patiently amidst an enormous queue at Edinburgh’s Waverley station waiting to board the train to Muirfield for the British Open. I am glad I did so, because the final day produced some wonderful golf.

Never having been to a pro tournament, I was unsure what to expect. But I was hoping that Adam Scott – barely mentioned in news dispatches the previous night – would not blow another Open opportunity. Immediately on arrival, I found the crowds to be good-natured, knowledgeable and enthusiastic (and overwhelmingly Scottish!). Palpable in the cool breeze was the expectation that overnight leader Lee Westwood would go on to claim yet another British win for the trophy cabinet of this most glorious of sporting summers.

The first thing I realized was that the differences between watching the coverage on the box and actually being at the course were stark. There was plenty of foot-slogging, and I developed an unhealthy reliance on the small manual scoreboards dotted about the course. Early in the day the crowds were spread about the fairways and grandstands. But as the afternoon wore on, and the number of golfers on the course dwindled, the crowds on the back half of the course were more concentrated. After wandering about aimlessly for a number of hours, I did my best to follow the Tiger and Adam show. But, given their popularity, it was a tough ask. At the 5th, Scott missed a very makeable birdie chance, and the rueful shaking of his head told me then that it just was not going to be his day. Soon after, Westwood birdied the same hole. The temporary grandstand erupted, shaking so violently I thought we all may end up in the Firth of Forth.

Like the veteran golf-watcher I now was, I headed for the 7th, just in time to see Scott make the first of three consecutive birdies. Maybe it would be his day after all? Another birdie at the 11th, and suddenly he was leading the tournament. There were groans in the crowd because Westwood, with a couple of bogies, had blown his two-shot overnight lead.

And what of Tiger Woods? Quite clearly, he is not the player he was pre-marriage break-up. There was a time when you could have put your house on him strolling to the dias on the Sunday given when in this position. Maybe the changes in his private life have been to the detriment of his on-course play. Is his mind wandering, thinking of all that he has lost?

I took up position by the fairway on the 18th, watching as the players doffed their caps – and visors – to the generous applause as they made their way up to the green for their final putts. Ernie Els, the reigning champ, was particularly popular. But the biggest roar by far was for Ian Poulter, the local who produced a brilliant 66 to tie for third. Meanwhile the treacle-like scoreboards atop the stands told me that Scott was, like last year, self-destructing. Four consecutive bogies and it was game over for him.

Amidst all this carnage stood Phil Mickelson. I must admit that I have never really warmed to him, and there have always been rumours that he is not the most popular guy in the 19th. But visors off to him: a brilliant 5-under round of 66 – including four birdies in the last six holes – was some way to finish a major golf tournament.

Despite my ambivalence, Phil was a very popular winner, heartily embraced by the crowd at the presentation. Which suddenly reminded me: crowds equals queues equals a long wait at Drem station for the train back to Edinburgh.

About Darren Dawson

Always North.

Comments

  1. Love it, Smokie. I’m glad we commissioned you to travel to Europe to write these stories for the site. (Dips, how much of his trip can he claim now with that statement?)

  2. Well done, Smoke, on losing your tour virginity.

    Word of warning, though. Don’t find yourself anywhere near Manchester on August 1.

    It ain’t gunna be purdy.

  3. MOC,
    Unfortunately I have tickets to all 5 days at Manchester.

    Cookie / Dips,
    I am so glad that I have kept all my receipts!

  4. Great experience Smoke.
    Crowds do like Phil – I dunno why. I don’t.
    But I’m not a Scott fan while he uses (and now loses via) the broomstick.
    Wish Jimenez had hung around – there’s a character and a golfer with a seriously good work/life balance….. seems you are managing that balance very well also.
    Happy and safe travels.

  5. Andrew Starkie says:

    Great stuff Smokie. Better there than at The Dungeon for another North debacle.

    You’ve taken me back to 95 at St Andrews. I saw Friday and Saty. John Daley won a play-off against Rocca.

    Safe trip.

  6. Peter Flynn says:

    Smoke,

    A terrific trip by the sounds of it.

    Scotrail does a great job.

    Muirfield is a superb links course that always gives a gun winner.

    Phil put on a clinic. One of the great rounds.

  7. Smokie

    Tickets for all 5 days? That’s confidence. Bit like Phil Hughes putting on sun screen before going out to bat.

    Hope there’s plenty to do in Madchester if it doesn’t go the distance

    Sean

  8. Paul Daffey says:

    Nice one, Smoke.

    Someone once told me that, really, travelling is all about waiting for taxis and trains . You’ve waited in one of my favourite places in the world.

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