I have a major British Open hangover and I know it’s time to move on, but I just don’t want to, dammit! Kidding. I’m actually just catching up writing at WUP again since 99% of my time was spent over at the Wall Street Journal blog. (Miss me?) Plus, I’ve been recovering from jetlag, travel and sleep deprivation.
First of all, I’d like to thank Merf for all his hard work covering for me here at WUP. He did a fantastic job and took a huge weight off my shoulders. (This also serves as another reminder to check the author of the post because I think many of you still get confused over who’s writing what — it’s been Merf about 9 out of 10 times in the past week or so.)
Secondly, thanks to all the readers for your continued support and for visiting me over at the WSJ blog last week. All your comments helped make me look good to the editors over there!
Thirdly, a huge thanks to James Bunch, a new friend who showed me around town all week. Without James, I wouldn’t have been able to write about the R&A Clubhouse, Tim Clark/Jason Day/Michael Sim’s practice round, the Challenge Belt, etc. He helped give me a local perspective and insight to the Open and links golf. Plus, he showed me around the pub scene a bit.
Also, a big thanks to Tony who runs the Vardon House, the B&B I stayed at last week, for his hospitality. If anyone is heading to St. Andrews in the future, stay at Tony’s place. I couldn’t have asked for a better location and host. He’s super chill, knowledgeable about golf and even though I didn’t spend much time in my room, it was a comfortable place to return to at night.
And thanks to JP Newport for his guidance and help, and the editors at the WSJ for giving me such a great opportunity. I enjoyed working with you all and hopefully this was just the first gig of more to come (and I’ll get to go to the PGA Championship, too — hint, hint!).
That said, here’s a recap of the highlights from the 2010 British Open at St. Andrews and some observations and experiences I might not have mentioned.
*The first night in St. Andrews. I was exhausted from taking the redeye, but a few people kept telling me that half of covering the Open is going out at night. I was on my way back to the Vardon House when I saw a large group of people hanging out in front of a pub — the Dunvegan, which I had heard so much about. I thought, well, I’ll just see if I know anyone there. I ran into some Golf Channel and GolfWeek people and decided to have a beer. And boy, I’m glad I stuck around. I met James Bunch, who like I said above, was a tremendous help and a great new friend.
*Playing nine holes at the Castle Course. James picked me up just after 7 on Tuesday morning. This was my first time playing golf in Scotland. It was definitely very helpful to experience links golf firsthand (even if the style of the course was totally different than the Old Course) because I got to see how important it was to play the ball off the mounds and adjust to the roll. Also, putting on greens at a links course allowed me to understand that the roll is very true and exactly why lag-putting is key to scoring well at St. Andrews. James and I played a friendly match with his friends and we beat them. I didn’t play especially great, but I scored very well, and I think that it earned me some extra respect from James. I mean, for the rest of the week, he told the Scots he introduced me to that I beat him and was a good player — which goes a long way at the Home of Golf.
*Trying on the Challenge Belt. When James showed me the Challenge Belt and practically forced me to try it on, I didn’t realize I would be one of three people to break it in for eventual champion Louis Oosthuizen. What an honor and a privilege!
*Walking alongside Tim Clark, Jason Day and Michael Sim for nine holes in their Tuesday practice round. It’s a rare opportunity to walk down the fairways with players unless you know them well enough, but James is good friends with Clark (they were college roommates) and he invited me to observe. Clearly, I am knowledgeable enough about golf to stay out of the way and to use judgment when I asked them questions about their practice and the course. And I directed most of my questions at James, anyway. After all, he was a local.
When I asked Clark how long it takes to adjust to links-style golf, he sardonically replied, “Another four years…You never can really get used to it.”
Between that experience and chatting with Ryan Moore, I finally got a decent grasp on understanding just what makes St. Andrews so difficult and the impact of the wind. There’s much more that goes into playing it than you’d think and now I get why it’s such an amazing course. I continue to be utterly fascinated with it and I can’t wait until I have the opportunity to play the Old Course…someday soon, I hope.
*The classic photo of John Daly at the Champions Dinner (thanks to Merf for posting it — and big props to him as the first person to come across it, to my knowledge). This picture is probably one of my favorites of all-time. It truly captured the moment and all the personalities of the former Open champions. Because it was linked to a bunch of sites, including SI’s Hot Clicks, the excess traffic crashed my server and caused chaos to some other sites that I share a server with. Whoops!
*My initial impressions as a first-timer at the Open at St. Andrews. It’s just a magical place. Sorry, but now I understand why the British Open > the US Open. I still stand by that opinion even after the somewhat ho-hum ending.
*Weather dictates the results of the Open. I wrote about the significant impact of weather at St. Andrews before the tournament started. And boy, did that prove true last week.
*John Daly posting a 66 in the first round. Even if it was just for a day, he turned back the clock to the ’95 Open at St. Andrews — and he reminded us just why we enjoy watching him play, especially when he puts up a good number. Paul Mahoney, a British journalist and friend, described the entertaining scene to me at the awards ceremony when Daly won in ’95.
As Daly took the Claret Jug for its walk around the 18th fairway, he stopped to pass it along to the drunk fans and took pictures with them — which was quite the scene as you can imagine. Meanwhile, the R&A suits almost had a heart attack. Bodies were dropping left and right as Daly let folks hold the Claret Jug, Mahoney said. Oh, how I wish I could have been there to witness the hoopla.
*The wind on Friday and suspension of play. With hindsight, the R&A probably shouldn’t have suspended play. Pulling the guys off the course and making them sit in the cold wind for an hour didn’t help matters…at all. In fact, it probably hurt most the players. Thing is, play was suspended because the course was deemed unplayable. Now it doesn’t make much sense to put them back on the course with the same conditions — which were considered unplayable — right?
*Rory McIlroy’s 63 and Rory McIlroy’s 80. Even after such a disastrous round and 17-shot swing, the 21-year-old from Northern Ireland faced the press with grace and poise afterward. He could have pulled a John Daly and knocked over a potted plant in a huff as he refused to speak to the media. But instead, he manned up and answered the difficult questions. Then he came back with solid play over the weekend. What might be more impressive is that in 12 competitive rounds at St. Andrews, he’s yet to post a score in the 70s.
*Tom Watson’s Farewell to St. Andrews. I was live-blogging the second round, but when I saw Watson walking up the 18th fairway, I had to witness it in real life — just like I got to walk his last two holes at Pebble Beach. I rushed out to the 18th hole just in time to see him doff his cap at the crowd as he approached the 18th green. It was probably even more spine-tingling than it was at Pebble Beach. As a five-time Open champion, the crowd gave him the reception of a lifetime. Even though he never won at St. Andrews, the fans still worship and respect Watson and vice versa.
Then, he nearly chipped in for eagle. It couldn’t have been a more fitting way for him to end his final round playing in the Open at St. Andrews. I watched as he held on to teen phenom Ryo Ishikawa’s hand and bestowed some words of wisdom — it was like the old guard passing along the torch to golf’s future. As poignant as his last two holes were at Pebble Beach, this was something even more special. I still have goosebumps. And I just feel lucky that I was able to witness his last competitive shots playing at the US Open at Pebble and the British Open at St. Andrews — two memories I’ll always cherish. Thanks, Tom.
*Attending Arnold Palmer’s press conference on Wednesday, where he reminisced about the Open at St. Andrews in 1960, 50 years ago. Arnie’s support reinvigorated American support for the championship and helped make it what it is today. He fought back tears as he recalled the third round being rained out. Even though so much had changed, the one thing that was the same was the weather. I think that was the first time I’d ever seen the King speak in person and to hear him talk about such an historic event made it all the more remarkable.
Also, during Tuesday’s practice round, I watched Mike Weir putt from the unpaved cart path on the Road Hole and knock it to a foot. Arnie was also there. Wearing a blue blazer, he walked up to Weir and shook his hand. Arnie told him that in 1960 he bogeyed the Road Hole three of the four rounds. But on the final day, he hit it to exactly where Weir was and putted it to a foot like Weir had — another incredible moment to witness.
*Of course, the trip inside the R&A clubhouse was a unique and distinctive experience. Like I mentioned, the ratio of men to women in the oldest good ol’ boys club was about the same as it was in the media center and better than some of the pubs I went to. In other words, ladies, if you want to meet guys, go to St. Andrews, especially during the week of the British Open.
*The 1AM field trip to the cemetery to pay tribute to the ghost of Tom Morris was surreal. Having Jim Nantz on hand to recite the inscription on Young Tom’s tombstone couldn’t have been more appropriate.
*Trying Thai-Scottish haggis at Nahm-Jim restaurant in St. Andrews. It was surprisingly delicious. I recommend it to anyone who is traveling there. If not, the food at Nahm-Jim in general is really good.
Well, this post has turned into a novel. But it was quite the sensational week and an experience…unlike any other. Now I hope I’ve been able to convey to you guys why the Open at St. Andrews is such a special and distinctive adventure. Partly, I got lucky with the people I met and the escapades I came across, but mostly, it’s because the atmosphere is conducive to such thrills.
In my “US Open: What I’ll Remember” post when I didn’t know I would be going to St. Andrews (in fact, it wasn’t confirmed until about five days before I left), I wrote “Pebble and St. Andrews in one summer sure would be a treat.” It sure was. I mean, it doesn’t get much better than that, right?
More important, I feel extremely fortunate that I’ve been able to turn my passion into a career. I still have much to learn and a long road ahead of (even more) hard work and perseverance in the months and years to come. But after stints in various other industries and countless moments of beating my head against the wall in the past five years, these experiences have only reaffirmed my belief that I’ve finally found the place where I belong (whether some like it or not!).
And there’s not a more fulfilling feeling.