The Open Championship at St Andrews is by far the best week in golf that only happens once every five years. I’ve been waiting for the oldest major to return to the Home of Golf ever since the 2010 edition ended with Louis Oosthuizen running away with the Claret Jug by seven strokes. First of all, it’s been five years already? I’ve been covering golf for that long? I can’t believe how fast time has past, and looking at pictures, I’m startled at how much I’ve aged!
That was only the third tournament I’d ever covered (and my first for the WSJ), and I always refer to it as the “best-worst week” of my golf media career, which still holds true. It’s easily the most memorable tournament I’ve covered — not per se because of the actual golf and the result, as Sunday was sort of boring after Oosthuizen pulled away from the field.
Regardless of the outcome at the Open at St Andrews, it’s an absolutely amazing week that inspires compelling golf, a spectacular atmosphere and memories of a lifetime. Now, I don’t usually wax poetic to this extent about a tournament and I’m almost worried that I’m jinxing myself and/or setting myself up for disappointment, but I’m not sure that’s possible when you’re at the Home of Golf — a visit here is *always* an incredible experience.
Perhaps the most unforgettable moments for me in 2010 happened off the golf course. The one that stands out considerably was Saturday of that week when myself, along with a random group of media members, Brian Gay and his wife, Jim Nantz and several others, went on a little adventure to pay homage to Old Tom Morris, which involved jumping an old stone wall to trudge through the medieval ruins of an old graveyard.
Here’s a group picture from that night:
Meanwhile, Nantz even gave a moving narration, reading the inscription on Young Tom Morris’ gravestone — which I luckily used my camera to record (yes, this was an era before not just phone recorders, but iPhones were universal).
The seagulls screeching and flying overhead in circles through the Medieval towers was enough to give anyone goosebumps. It was straight out of a Hitchcock movie. “This is spooky,” I muttered to myself as I followed those leading the way.
We traversed across the maze of headstones and other stone obstacles, like a picnic table. I’m surprised no one hurt themselves as most of us only had the glow of the moon to guide us through the eerie grounds. We finally reached the resting spot of Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris near the back right side of the cemetery.
I wasn’t kidding when I said that I’ve been anxiously awaiting for the Open to return to St Andrews.
While the rest of the group frolicked ahead, I quietly turned onto Murray Park toward my B&B. I shook my head and smiled to myself, thinking, it’s random happenings like tonight that are part of what make the Open at St. Andrews so spectacular. There’s nowhere else in the world that shenanigans filled with mischief and history fuse to form such mind-boggling memories. As much as it is about golf, the other half is about the atmosphere and the off-the-course adventures.
I couldn’t have asked for a more fantastic week. I’m already counting down to 2015 — when the Open returns to St. Andrews. Heck, why don’t they just have it there every year?
Here are some other fun memories and links to posts that I wrote in 2010 here and here (some of the text is copied below), which are worth a read for a preview of this year’s Open. I’m obviously biased, but I was so wide-eyed and enthusiastic that I think it comes out in my writing from five years ago.
*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.
Preparation for links courses usually manifests in some form of experience. But some players just have a natural eye for the bounces and the roll on the ground. The importance of local knowledge has been emphasized repeatedly. Many guys hired local caddies to guide them around the course and show them the lines in their practice rounds. So, how long does it take to adjust to links-style golf?
“Another four years,” Tim Clark, the 2010 Players champion, said sardonically. “You never can really get used to it.”
Forget getting the ball to hold or spin back. Anticipate the quirky bounce and the roll. Leave your flop shot back in the States. Pray for Mother Nature to behave gently and kindly. And remember to adjust to the conditions, create the necessary shots, and let your imagination run (within reason). Most importantly, stay out of those pesky pot bunkers in the fairway because that is basically an automatic one-stroke penalty.
Walking from tee to green alongside Clark, Michael Sim and Jason Day during the front nine of their Tuesday practice round, I was presented with the rare opportunity for a closer look at their preparation. It was also interesting given their distinctive playing styles. There’s not a right or wrong way to play the course, but obviously there are advantages to controlling the trajectory and excellent lag putting on the ginormous greens.
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.
*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.
[Ed. note: The R&A changed the rule for age eligibility of past champions, so actually 2015 will be Watson’s last Open at St Andrews.]
*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.
I can only hope that this year’s Open is half as memorable and as amazing of an experience as it was five years ago.