The nicest thing anyone has ever done for me was to award me a pass that allows me free standby flights. This takes the cost out of flying, but it doesn’t take the stress away. Basically, you put your name on a list with a whole bunch of United employees, they sort you by seniority, then they award you seats on a space available basis.
The friend of a United employee doesn’t have much seniority. I always get bumped down four or five places right before take off. Since the only thing that matters is seniority, I figure that most people keep their eye on a flight that works, and register for it on their way to the airport.
I am not most people. When I got this flight pass in January The Open Championship was the first thing that crossed my mind. I got on the standby list from Newark to Glasgow three months before my scheduled departure. That turned out to be exactly three months too early.
For 85 days I checked the United portal daily. For 85 days I was the only passenger standing by on a flight with rows of empty seats. On the 86th day, the flight filled up. On the 87th day, I started to slip down the standby list. On the 88th day, the flight was shown as oversold. On the 89th day, I panicked.
I’ve been down this road before. My friend was studying abroad in London when McIlroy took home the Claret Jug in 2014. I invited myself out there, but had to cancel at the last minute when the golf club where I worked put me on a bag for their member guest tournament, a tournament heartbreakingly called The Bagpiper.
My Piper team was lapping the field after Saturday’s round. Mathematically, all we needed was half a point, but the guys didn’t have that in them on Sunday. I tried every caddie trick in the book: feeding them granola bars, calibrating my laser, identifying a cut on a pristine golf ball, saddling the golf bags up on a cart and running ahead of my group to forecaddie… It was all in vain. My dudes couldn’t sniff a halve.
Caddies have to stay for lunch on Sunday, so I was there when my team tied for third place after their abysmal performance. As you would imagine, the team we tied with crushed us in head to head play. No horse race. For a reason I’ll never understand, they called it sportsmanship, I called it masochism, these motherfuckers wanted to stay and watch the race anyway. Mercifully, one of the guys took care of me before he went back on the course. I couldn’t get out of that place fast enough.
I didn’t have time to shed my caddie uniform if I wanted to watch McIlroy cross the finish. I’m quite fond of Dri-FIT, so that wasn’t too much of a sacrifice. Nursing my wounds with a cold beer and a soft couch was bittersweet. On the one hand, my team had taken care of me. I had $800 in cash in my pocket from less than two days work.
That winter I was laid off from a soul sucking office job that paid me handsomely. After the separation I spent a few happy months wondering about my life’s purpose and shredding pow on the front range mountains. Coincidentally, my unemployment checks dried up right when the snow melted.
I had worked in the golf industry before I took a real job in the operations department of a business consulting franchise. My two years in the consulting world amounted to a long, strange trip. I reached my destination (a ski slope, I guess) sure of only one thing, I had shuffled my last stack of paper.
I was never going to sit behind a desk ever again.
So I took a job supervising the outside staff at a B level country club on the west side of town. The hours were shit, and my pay was quartered, but it was nice to be in a position where I knew exactly what I was doing. There’s a pride that comes with being great at your job, never mind being underemployed.
To help pay the bills I picked up three or four loops a week at an A level country club on the east side of town. Between caddie fees and tips I almost had my old salary matched, but I also was working at least 70 hours a week. During a Ripken like stretch leading up to that year’s Open Championship I worked 40 consecutive days. There were no half days during this stretch. I never came in for an hour or something to keep the streak going.
Readers in the golf industry will be rightfully unimpressed by this streak. Insane hours are a reality of the business, especially when you’re starting out, and especially in the summer time. Unless you’re a salaried employee at a course in the deep south you’re not going to make it to The Open Championship if you’re a full time employee at a golf course. Never mind being a full time employee at two golf courses.
But when you reenter the golf industry, traveling to the UK to see a golf tournament isn’t something that crosses your mind. I didn’t realize how sad that would make me until I found myself on the couch that Sunday. That was the first time I wondered what exactly I was trading for unlimited free golf. The first time I wondered if I had made the right choice.
Three months later I decided that I had made the right choice, and I apprenticed myself to the PGA of America. One year after that I changed my mind, and went back to school. When young golf professionals ask me for advice I probe for their hobbies. If they like to hunt, or fish, or are, as is often the case, are very involved with the church, I encourage them to continue. It’s my opinion that those in it solely for the love of the game are bound to flounder. It’s is a shame to turn your favorite hobby into a profession.
Of course it’s not that crystal clear. My views on the golf industry solidified after I left the profession. That type of clarity only comes with hindsight, and with a lot of personal reflection. The same type of hindsight and personal reflection that had me sitting on the couch and sweating, exactly two years after I had missed an opportunity to attend The Open Championship at Royal Liverpool. Before my very eyes another opportunity was slowly leaking from my grasp.
Another benefit to the standby pass is that there’s no penalty for missing a flight. If you’re willing to get creative, and it’s not President’s Day weekend, there’s a good chance that you can at least get near your destination. I was willing to get creative.
My hostel was in Glasgow, and I fired up Google with the idea that come hell or high water, I would get myself to Glasgow in time for the first tee time Thursday. I spent an entire day on Google looking at airports and train routes. The research culminated with five booked flights. Beyond my flight to Glasgow I had a flight to Manchester, two flights to London, and flight to Edinburgh.
Things got simpler from there. There was enough traffic on the way to the airport to make the overselling of my original flight to Glasgow a non-factor. I checked in at the counter for my second flight, and was immediately handed a first class ticket to Manchester. Score.
With the exception of a few international flights, before I got this flight pass, it had been about 15 years since I was even on an airplane with a first class cabin. Previously, I was a Southwest guy. I’m not sure what the timetable is for the evolution of first class, but the days of dark blue leather recliners are behind us. My chair turned into a bed. No jokes here, a fucking flat bed. 45 degrees. I was lying prone.
I don’t want bore with too many details about my flight, but I made it a point to say yes to every single thing that the flight attendants offered me. Not a good idea. It took them close to five hours to serve me a seven-course dinner where my wine glass was topped off every 30 seconds.
By the end of the meal my stomach, full to point of bursting, had me pinned in my chair. I had just enough strength to flatten my seat before I passed out. When I woke up there was a bowl of granola, a plate of fruit, and a customs form on the tray in front of me. I don’t want to seem ungrateful here, the first class experience on an international flight was incredible, something to die for, I don’t know how I’ll ever fly coach again, so let’s just say we can take chasing seven glasses of wine with a two hour nap and a bowl of granola off the list of potential cures for jet lag.
I felt like garbage as I dragged my wine sodden body through the airport to the train terminal in Manchester, and like incinerated garbage once I took my seat on the train. During the three-hour ride I nodded in and out of consciousness and prayed for salvation. During a one-hour delay to do “signal failure” I nodded in and out of consciousness and prayed for death. Neither came.
I arrived in Glasgow, hoisted my duffel onto my shoulder, and dragged myself to the hostel. My dingy basement room was packed with five of the world’s cheapest bunk beds. It was the type of place that you laugh about and say something like thank god we’re only staying here for one night. I had booked the room for five nights. And prepaid…
I hit the streets in search of something, ANYTHING, to raise my spirits. Luckily, I found a Chinese restaurant before I found a heroin dealer. A huge bowl of hot and sour soup and a few dumplings set me right again. I was in Glasgow, and tomorrow, I would be attending The Open Championship, hangover and hostel be damned. I made my way back to my rented dungeon, poured myself into what could liberally be called a bed, and was asleep before my head hit the pillow. It was not quite four in the afternoon.
I was pitched out of a deep slumber when a robotic voice screeched THE TIME IS SIX AM. I forgot to set an alarm. Luckily, an anonymous roommate hadn’t. I threw on some clothes, and to borrow a Scottish expression, made my way to the train faster than a sheep running from a Welshman.
There were a lot of stops between Glasgow and Troon. At some point, the landscape just starts to melt together. That whole area consists of sheep, stacks of baled hay covered with tarps, dreary flats, and the occasional dairy cow. As we got closer to the ocean the landscape changed. The baled hay turned to wild grass. The wild grass turned to closely mown grass. In the distance I saw a bunker. Then a flag stick. I couldn’t be too far from The Open.
Or so I thought. The last ten miles or so between Glasgow and Troon are just teeming with golf courses. I had reached the false peak of a summit. With nothing to do but chew my nails and tremble with excitement, I gave the golf courses a good study.
As I could see it, the biggest difference between what we would call a links course in America, and an actual links course in Scotland is the width of the fairways. Without exception, the links courses I’ve played in America (and I’ve played some of the good ones, Ballyneil, Nantucket Golf Club, Chambers Bay, Sankity Head, Haymaker ) have cavernous fairways. The fairways near Troon were extremely narrow – that’s something that gets lost on television broadcasts.
The terrain on these courses is also unbelievably varied. All the shots you see bouncing on or near the fairway then trickling into bunkers, deep rough, down or side hill lies, and even fescue (called heather in Scotland) are the results of miscalculations, not mishits. Some part of me knew that, but the importance of knowing the terrain, and controlling your distances is difficult to conceptualize until you see just how narrow these fairways are, and just how severe the topography is at these courses.
This means that Bubba Watson is never going to win an Open Championship. Imagine how hard you have to hit the ball to slice it 350 yards. (With the widespread use of shot tracker, it’s unconscionable to call his ball flight a fade. Bubba Watson plays a slice.) Now imagine trying to hit that same slice 320 yards to avoid rolling into a bunker. Not fucking possible, and that’s before you add a squall, or a howling crosswind to the equation.
The train stopped. I followed the crowd onto a bus. From there it was a quick two-mile trip to Royal Troon. I made it, but I forgot to eat breakfast, and I had never been so fucking hungry in my entire life. Thankfully, the R+A had planned for a situation like this one. There was a booth selling bacon rolls mere steps away. The sandwich was fine, but a word of warning here, in the United (at least for now) Kingdom they call ham bacon. Enough pig semantics, let’s talk about golf.
The breakfast line, and for that matter every part of the tournament on Thursday morning was buzzing with news about Colin Montgomerie. Scotland’s elder golf statesman had bogeyed the first hole, then birdied five holes on the front nine, and was making the turn at three under.
Being 29 years old, American, and discovering the game of golf relatively late in life (I didn’t start playing until I was 13) I missed almost all of Colin’s greatness. The looming memory I have of Montie comes from a PGA match play tournament that took place 16 years ago. I’d been playing golf for less than a year, and as is the case with beginning golfers who are passionate about the sport, my scores were improving exponentially.
The improvement came so quickly in my first year playing that I started thinking about playing for a living someday. If this were to be the case it seemed a good idea to stay abreast of what was happening in the world of professional golf.
One Sunday I tuned in for the final round of the PGA match play championship. As Tiger and someone I’d never seen before teed off the commentators joked about Tiger’s opponent, a tubby European who skipped a pre-round trip to the practice range in favor of a cheeseburger and a pint of Guinness. The match wasn’t even close. To borrow another Scottish euphemism, the European tubster drubbed Tiger like a Welshman on a sheep. The man’s name? Colin Montgomerie.
Seeing Montie in person didn’t jog any memories. What’s more, after sinking a 20-footer on hole 11 Colin started shedding strokes like a mangy dog at a humane society open house. I looped back to 11 to catch Jim Furyk.
Daren Clark was paired with Furyk. When I saw him it all came flooding back to me. Clarke was the one who ate the cheeseburger and drank the Guinness. Clark bested Woods 4+3 in the 2000 PGA match play championship. I’d never seen Colin Montgomerie in my life. Everything I know about the man I picked up from his large, loud gallery. I know:
1: He focuses mostly on announcing now.
2: He turned down a position as the ceremonial starter at this golf tournament to play in one last Open.
3: His father worked at Royal Troon when he was a youngster. Google tells me that he was the “secretary” at the course. Something tells me that doesn’t mean the same thing in American English as it does in British English.
4: His goal for the tournament was to make the cut.
5: Scottish fans LOVE him.
Back to Furyk. I’m a touch guy, when shit goes wrong in my golf game I pound golf balls at the range for a few months, or a few years, until shit feels right again. I’ve taken the odd lesson, and they’ve helped me, but at some point you get tired of being chastised for an unorthodox swing.
So I’ve always had a soft spot for Furyk. I followed him during the final round of the 2012 U.S. Open. That ball he left on the Bunker on 17 ended up costing him 1.2 million dollars. I was standing directly behind him, a veritable dick length away. It was agonizing. Golf is a cruel mistress. Furyk knows that better than anyone.
He also knows how to put a move on a golf ball. It’s a real treat to watch the trajectory of his shots, which take off like a rocketship, soaring high into the clouds. There are 20 handicappers in the gallery who know that a low, flat trajectory results in more distance.
These 20 handicappers don’t understand that winning on a links course isn’t about raw distance, it’s about distance control. In the case of Furyk, the beauty of his golf swing lies in its functionality. He’s been around for a long, long time, and while I don’t see him bagging another major, I think he has a win or two in the tank. I look forward to watching those wins.
But, it’s time to put Fluff out to pasture. He is fucking old, man. The whole time I was watching him I was just thinking about a dog with floppy skin and rheumy eyes struggling to stand up on a tile floor. Jim Furyk, if you see this, I’d be happy to pick up your bag. I don’t need reading glasses to see a yardage book, and I still have a few years of heavy hoofing left in me. The two of us are destined for greatness.
Wait, maybe not. As soon as I started following Furyk he started shedding strokes like an elderly person who has finally found the right blood pressure medication. Six total strokes during the seven holes where I trailed him. Like any good prospective caddie I’ll take the blame for the bad round. Jimmy give me one more chance. I have a very robust mustache, you probably won’t even notice that it’s not Fluff.
From 18 I cut to two green, and waited patiently for my main man Kevin Na to join me. I love Kevin Na. I’ve loved him since before it was cool. Since the 2009 PGA Championship, when my dad wanted to follow Boo Weekly. On Saturday, Boo was paired with a younger, saner, Kevin Na.
Both Na and Weekly were completely out of contention that day, and they were playing faster than you would fucking believe. Na shot two under. He made eight birdies. At that point in my golfing career it is likely that I hadn’t made eight birdies all summer (this was the PGA Championship, last weekend in July). Na had me glued to my proverbial chair (I didn’t have an actual chair, I was following him at a golf tournament.)
It’s fun for golf fans to watch Kevin Na for the same reason it was fun for baseball fans to watch Brian Fuentes. Na is an extremely talented dude, but he’s nervous and unstable. The wheels could come off at any moment.
I’ve never seen Na play when he was in contention, so Thursday was real treat. Na went four under through five holes. For a moment, I thought my fandom was finally paying off. Golf history was being made before my very eyes.
He was back to even on hole seven after a double and two bogeys. The rest is a blur. At one point he was two over. Then two under. Then even again, then one under at the finish.
I tried my best to see him hit every shot, but Royal Troon doesn’t have the best viewing areas. The round, or at least everything I saw of the round, included two missed putts from inside 18 inches, 6000 shouted FUCKS, and this interaction with his caddie:
Na with the box, swinging a three wood on the tee.
Kenny Harms: That bunker on the left is 293 out.
Kevin Na: So this should be fine, right?
Na: Walks to the ball, lines up at the bunker, crushes it.
Na: Is that gonna be okay?
Na: I hope so.
He found the bunker. The only other caddie interaction he had was when Kenny stopped him from resting on his knees and swinging at ball that was lodged on the front lip of the bunker. Na smartly played the shot backwards, and came away with a one putt-bogey.
With Kevin Na, the slow play is tolerable. I’ll sacrifice a few minutes of my day to watch a dude make 7+ birdies in a round. That’s way more exciting than Jordan Speith darning himself and discussing velocity with Mike.
Let’s go back to Fuentes, who to put it kindly, wasn’t going to win a footrace in his Major League days. Half the fun of watching such a unique talent was seeing his eyes bug out. I used to love those 50 pitch innings where he would load the bases and spend 30+ seconds dripping sweat and shaking his head at the catcher between hurls. Then the Rockies would win 2-1. Another textbook save for Fuentes!
So fuck you Stevie Williams. I hope that Scott fires you, then wins a major while you’re looping on the LPGA. And that you find out mid round, and the news surprises you so much that you turn your ankle, and you finish the round, but you’re in a great deal of pain.
Afterwards you go to the doctor, and he tells you that the ankle will be fine with a surgery and a few months of physical therapy, but after the surgery you absolutely have to stay off it for a couple of months.
Your friends will do their best to help you, Stevie, but one day, almost two months into your bedrest one of them forgets to feed your dog. Fido (I’m sure your dog’s name is more racist than Fido – I don’t care to indulge you) whimpers and whimpers and whimpers downstairs while you text everyone in your phone book to please, PLEASE come over and help. No one’s available.
Now it’s a few hours later and you can’t take the whimpering anymore. You’ve been lying in bed for almost two months. Maybe your foot has healed a little bit, enough for you to make it downstairs if you really try to keep your weight off it. You ease you way off the bed and plant your non-injured foot.
This is fine.
Then the injured foot…
There it is. Even in your opioid induced haze you know that this break is worse than the first one. You collapse in a heap on the floor. Luckily you were able to keep your phone cradled in your hand during the fall.
If one of your worthless friends was available he could drive you to the hospital, but that’s not the case. You already texted all of them.
After some quick mental math you calculate that an ambulance trip is cheaper than lying on the floor and starving to death. Marginally cheaper. Your shaking hand dials a nine. Wow, your ankle really hurts, and you know that you’ve been overdoing it with the pain pills. This is going to be a long road home. Maybe it would be better to just lie on the ground and starve to death. No, that would be painful too.
Your shaking finger finds the one. No, it misses, that’s a two. Damn. It’s really time to taper off the Vicodin.
Buzz. Buzz. A text.
Yes! Maybe you won’t have to pay for the ambulance. Wait, what? It’s Adam Scott, the one person you didn’t text to help you with Fido. The two of you haven’t talked since he fired you. It’s been over a year.
Scott: “You all healed bro?”
Buzz Buzz. New Text.
Scott again. “Could throw you a loop tomorrow.”
That’s all you can take. Instinctively you hurl your phone. Your vision blurs so much that you can’t see the useless brick shatter against the wall.
I’m getting sidetracked. My point is that Na is exciting. He’s good for the game. You’re a racist embarrassment Stevie Williams. Even my elaborate revenge fantasy is too good for you. Good luck with Scott’s bag. Be careful with that ankle.
I checked my steps after Na finished. 46,000. That’s 21 miles. Nobody said attending a golf tournament would be easy. It was time to go home.
When I solicited advice for my trip to The Open Championship from people who had traveled to Scotland, the one universal suggestion was to be prepared for all types of weather. Thursday night there were murmurings of rain. Some of the people at my hostel said they were going to skip the tournament all together and stay dry.
This seemed rash to me. Thursday was a balmy 68 degrees. The wind was dead calm all day. Still, it would be a shame to waste all of my preparation. I suited up. Khaki pants? Check. Cotton socks and tennis shoes? Check. A long underwear top? Check. A tee shirt? Check. A long sleeve pullover? Check. A windbreaker? Is this really necessary? Maybe I’ll just tie that to my waist.
So I was looking fly on my walk from the hostel to the train. I was feeling fly too, for about three blocks, when I saw that most of the people walking around Glasgow had on shorts and polos. Maybe my friends had tricked me.
I stopped for a real Scottish breakfast, black pudding and links on a roll. Salty would be an understatement. I’m not gonna spend too much time on the food, because it’s all pretty similar. Loosely packed sausage caked with salt. Food wise, my best advice for travel to the United Kingdom is to find an Indian or Chinese restaurant that you trust, and to stick with it.
A slight breeze pulled at my windbreaker. Maybe the people in short pants were the ones playing a joke. It’s hard to tell, English humor is so dry. Luckily, the weather had been dry so far too. At that point, the only thing I could know for sure was that I was very comfortable in my four layers of clothing.
Sure, the train ride was a little tepid, but I could always shed a layer or two once I got off. I was told to be prepared for anything, and damn it I was prepared for anything. I was proud of myself.
Once I was inside gates the tough guys in shorts and tee shirts were replaced by guys in at least as many layers as me. Many of those men were even carrying umbrellas.
I couldn’t help but chuckle a bit at the umbrellas. Rain is a rare occurrence where I’m from; it’s something that we celebrate. In my mind, an umbrella will always be a fashion accessory. Something for ladies, and homosexuals (NOT THAT I HAVE ANYTHING AGAINST LADIES OR HOMOSEXUALS). I guess things are different across the pond…
I made my way to the tee box of the postage stamp eighth hole with the idea of spending the entire day there. I love watching the pros play short holes. Maybe I’d catch a hole in one.
The first few drops trickled down. So what? Little water never hurt anyone, right?
Wrong. 10 seconds later I was soaked to the bone. Maybe 10 seconds after that I realized that my position was untenable. I was the only person in the entire grandstand without an umbrella. It was fucking freezing.
I hadn’t been there yet, but it’s hard to miss the souvenir tent at these tournaments. My race to the enormous white merchandise building may as well have taken place in a swimming pool. I got a lot of funny looks from mostly dry spectators as I forced my way up stream in a flowing river of umbrellas.
I think I was the only person at the entire fucking tournament without an umbrella. More than a few people had on full rain gear, including hats, AND were holding umbrellas. I guess that’s what my friends meant when they told me to come prepared for anything. I was literally drowning in my principels.
I shouldered my way through a queue, burst into The Open Shop, and shook myself off like a dog. A suave British salesman wasted no time reading my mind. “Are you looking for some trousers, sir?” Yes, trousers. I’ll die before I hold an umbrella.
He had me fit for a full set of rain gear before I could say squall. I checked the price of my trousers, 65 Pounds. Next, the price of my rain jacket, 65 Pounds.
At my right was a giant yellow umbrella, 38 Pounds. I apologized to the disappointed salesman, handed him back the soaking wet waterproof suit, and picked up the umbrella. It’s true that everyone has their price. It turns out that my price is 92 GBP ($121.17 at press time).
I’m not an umbrella expert. I repeat, I AM NOT AN UMBRELLA EXPERT. But I figured the damn thing wasn’t gonna do me any good if my clothes were completely saturated with water. Luckily, the good people at Glenmorangie had set up a hospitality tent with patrons like me in mind.
If like me, you’re used to the “we’re out of sauerkraut” level of hospitality that comes with autoclave sterile environment of even the most expensive corporate hospitality tents at golf tournaments in the U.S., then the Glenmorangie tent was a revelation. The exterior of the structure was nothing special, a white tent dotted with an orange roof. The inside was stuffed with plush leather furniture situated on top of rich mahogany flooring. Matching mahogany bars featured bartenders in bowties and vests shaking cocktails violently.
The lighting was dim, the staff extremely affable, and most importantly, the crowd size was sensible. Imagine a cool speakeasy. Now remember that you are at a golf tournament, in Troon, Scotland with sixty thousand other patrons. This tent is open to the public.
I haven’t been to the Masters, but this sort of thing doesn’t exist at the U.S. Open or the PGA Championship. Sure, you can get a 16-ounce Bud Light from a high school dropout for 11 dollars, but you’ll wait in line for 20 minutes for that privilege.
For fans of golf with a few tournaments under their belt, it’s no secret that the game is better on T.V. Producers curate multiple relevant groups for you, you don’t have to fight crowds, you have a front row seat for every shot, (a few) knowledgeable announcers (sometimes) offer smart commentary. The bottom line is your couch is way more comfortable than elbowing your way to a taught rope where you’re shushed by a man with two signs standing directly in front of you. Even if you achieve the best-case scenario of pressing bellies with a marshal, you’re still 30 feet from the action.
The biggest compliment that I can give The Open Championship is that it is bar none the best place to watch The Open Championship. Instead of denying the magic of television, The Open set up a giant high-definition Jumbotron (I’d say 40ft x 30ft) inside a ring of restaurants, bars, coffee shops, etc. If that weren’t enough they put out some enormous beanbags for fans to sit on, and they did their own commercial-free television broadcast, complete with commentary, on the massive screen.
Instead of the draconian WE WILL TAKE YOUR PHONE IF WE SEE IT policy that is ubiquitous even at irrelevant PGA tournaments in the states, marshals at The Open seemed to enforce a sensible don’t be an idiot with your phone policy. Employees were knowledgeable about the tournament score, pairings, groupings, and directions.
I didn’t buy a ticket to the tournament Sunday because I didn’t want to fight the galleries if The Open turned out to be a two-man race. Of course The 145th Open was one of the more obvious two-man races in the history of golf, but I still really wanted to go on Sunday. I actually priced out going: 70 GBP for a ticket, 35 Pounds for seven drinks at the Glenmorangie house (I was on vacation, OKAY?) 105 GBP, 18 above my newly found limit. A real shame.
Two drinks later I was dry and ready for action. I unfurled my umbrella with a masculine grunt and forced myself into the driving rain. I still had aspirations of viewing a birdie or two. Despite all my dilly dallying some of the players hadn’t teed off yet. Whiskey bent and golf bound, I made my way back onto the course.
On Friday Jason Day, Jordan Speith, Rory McIlroy, and Ricky Fowler teed off in three back-to-back groups between 1:30 and 2:00. As an avid consumer of golf on American television I can’t fault anyone for these groupings, but it doesn’t take a genius to realize that this didn’t help control gallery size. Using a well-known flashflood safety tactic, I sought higher ground in a grandstand atop four green. It was a smart idea; the storm intensified shortly after I took my seat.
Fowler and McIlroy made birdies. The galleries for Speith and Day were pretty tame, at least compared to what I see on American television. The gallery for McIlroy was fucking insane. If there were 10 people attending the tournament, eight of them were following McIlroy. Friday’s round hosted 60,000 spectators.
When Rory went to five tee I was the only person in the grandstand who didn’t care to follow him. I was soaking wet again. I suppose an umbrella is like a pistol, holding it in your hand gives you a sense of safety, but the thing is completely worthless unless you know how to use it. Luckily, I knew how to use the whiskey tent, which is more than I can say for the 50,000 fans stacked nine deep to watch an out of contention McIlroy.
Unless Phil gagged his way out of contention (possible, but not probable; I was thinking it was about a one in three chance), Saturday was to be my last day at the open. At this point I had dressing silently in the hostel, snatching a quick and terrible breakfast, and riding the train to The Open down to a science.
I went back in the grandstand on eight green. Watching pros play 125-yard shots into a frigid, howling wind is a real treat. My umbrella, folded and lying firmly in my limp hand, did nothing to shield me from the wind. Umbrellas man, can’t live with ‘em. Can’t live without ‘em. Can’t fucking stand them…
Eight is a great hole. With Saturday’s right flag the pros had to land the ball inches away from a bunker hugging the left side of a tiny green. This shot was a pure test of distance control, and pure test of luck. Every professional golfer has that 125-yard shot. Time and time again the brave ones hung the ball on the right lip of the left bunker. The balls would teeter for a moment, sometimes choosing to roll left, into bogey country, but some rolled right, stopping no further than four feet from the flag.
The not so brave ones shot towards the center of the green, or even at the flag, and watched their ball trickle off the green for a relatively easy uphill chip from a flat lie. If this were ScottsDALE the fans would have booed. In ScotLAND conservative shots are met with an icy silence. In my mind, the silence is worse than the boos. You can’t laugh off silence.
Five or six groups went through before I’d had enough. If today was to be my last day at The Open then damn it today was the day that I was going to fight the galleries. The Glenmorangie tent supplied me with a few drams of fortification, and it was off to one green for Sergio and Beef.
You know about Sergio. The wrists, the decision to stop practicing, the elaborate pre-shot routine, the move to no pre-shot routine, always a bridesmaid, never a bride, but the Spanish fans still love him.
At the BMW Championship two years ago a busty brunette wearing a tube top and a Spanish flag for a cape broke free from her husband and raced to the ropes to profess her love for Sergio in their native tongue. Sergio just smiled and gave her a little wave, but he thought about it. There was an awkward moment while he gave the situation a good, hard ponder.
The woman’s husband just smiled and shook his head. He was wearing a Spanish flag too. Sergio lives a hard life.
There were plenty of busty brunettes wearing Spanish flags in the gallery on Sunday, but Andrew Johnston thwarted any hopes I had of a repeat performance. Most of the people in the crowd were there to see Beef.
British lads love Beef the same way Spanish women love Sergio. The vibrant energy was infectious: lads working their way through the crowd to scream unintelligible British slang at Beef, Beef rewarding their effort with a hurried wave, doing his best to return his focus to the golf game.
Beef’s caddie, Gordon Faulkner, sternly silenced the raucous crowd during Sergio’s shots. The gallery was a party. Beef is good for the game, even when you take into account the beard, and the comments he made about celebrating a win at the Spanish Open by getting drunk (for shame).
He also plays the game faster than anyone on tour. No practice swings, minimal discussion with his caddie, just a trust of the instinct, and a whack of the ball. It’s a pleasure to watch. Youngsters, congratulations, you’ve made it 6,250 words into a blog. If you learn only one thing from my writing, please, learn this:
Forget about Jordan Speith. Andrew Johnston can teach you everything you need to know about golf. If you’re lucky enough to have a gallery, be cordial to them. Respect your opponent. Pick a club, hit the ball. Unless you’re capable of making 7 birdies in a round but incapable of making a two-foot putt there’s no reason to stretch a round over 4:30.
I could only handle 10 holes of the crush that came with following Johnston and Sergio. Troon was not built with the idea of hosting 60,000 spectators, so I did my best to take note of good viewing areas during my tours of the course. The best viewing area I found was a hill on the inside of hole 11, the train hole. From this hill I could see groups make bogey on 10, a mighty test playing well over par for the week, and simply turn my head to see the groups tee off on 11.
The tee shot on 11 is completely blind. You see the player hit the ball, you track it, track it, track it, lose it, and a spotter in a high tower on the left side of the hole waves a green flag for inbounds, or a red flag for out of bounds. It’s easy to track the balls on top of the hill, which makes for a unique and pleasant viewing experience. Trust me when I say that there is nothing like watching a guy who plays golf for a living follow a bogey with a stone block O.B. right. I’ve never felt so good about my own game.
But it only took three groups to max out my confidence. Then Zach Johnson and Tony Finau strolled by. Seeing Zach and Tony standing side by side is like parking a 96 Deville next to a Tesla. The sports car Tesla. Johnson is a relic of a bygone era, a man who proves that at one point, if you worked on your short game enough, you could really make it as a professional.
Finau is the future. I’m not sure what that future holds, but I’m excited for it. Homie went monochrome with his outfit, grey slacks, polo, and cashmere sweater. On top he had a vibrant, lime green Nike hat. Flywires rooted him to the ground. Nike fucking Flywires.
I’m not talking about the Flywire golf shoes that McIlroy wears, I’m talking about the ones in Jay-Z’s closet. I know, because I made it a point to scope the shoe bottoms.
I used to get so much shit for playing in tennis shoes. It made me something of a celebrity in the insular world of Colorado golf. For years, the Foot Joy representative made it a point to bring me a pair of golf shoes any time he visited a course where I worked. I made it a point to sell those shoes on Ebay.
When I passed the P.A.T. my mom congratulated me, then told me she assumed that I wasn’t any good at golf because I was playing in sneakers. That very morning a stuffy rules official thought long and hard before allowing me to tee off in the shoes, which I’d like to point out were the same color as Finau’s hat.
This is one day in the life of a golfer who can’t find comfortable golfing shoes circa 2014. Like I said, this kid’s the future. Another lesson for the kids here: golf shoes are a racket (though I did eventually find a comfortable pair, DryJoy D.N.A’s. A revelation).
I can’t remember what Johnson was wearing, but it might as well have been a propeller hat, maybe prominent suspenders, some capris, clown shoes… He routinely hit iron shots off the tee on Saturday, and was routinely more than 150 yards behind Finau.
He still stuffs those wedge shots, and is probably the best pure putter I’ve ever seen. Everything he rolls has a good shot of going in. Our final lesson for the kids comes from a bald, shrimpy, Iowan who takes sponsorship money from Transamerica. Despite all that he has bagged a Masters and an Open Championship.
Practice your fucking short game. 90% of your practice time should be spent on shots 100 yards and in. Eventually you’ll learn to scrape the ball around, and you’ll be very happy when your knees don’t knock over four foot putts.
Damon Green has gotta be great for Johnson too. I’d make a lot more birdies if I had someone to follow me around and do a world class birdie dance. I would hate to see Johnson and Green split, but if the unthinkable happens I hope Green will consider buying low on Na. A good birdie dance could be just what Na needs to get out of his head.
I could have doubled back to 16 to watch Mickelson and Stenson when Johnson and Finau finished, but I didn’t see the point.
I fucking hate Phil Mickelson. My favorite bet to make during major championships is Mickelson, to miss the cut. I usually get pretty good odds on it, and nothing gives me more pleasure than rooting against Lefty. Luckily, the bookmakers in Glasgow didn’t have that bet. That took some of the sting off of Phil making the final pairing.
When I was younger I disliked Phil Mickelson because I loved Tiger. As I grew older I learned more about Phil, and the more learned the less I liked. Rumor has it that Phil is:
A degenerate gambler. This isn’t pure conjecture, Phil plays with a watch, and a rodeo style wallet tucked in his back pocket. The watch is to time opponents in lost ball situations. That yardage book holder doubles as a bill fold outside of sanctioned play.
Not enough for you? Phil’s caddie, Jim Mackay, goes by Bones. There’s a nice story about Fred Couples forgetting his name some years ago leading to the nickname, but I know a few guys named Bones, and even the ones with nice stories behind their names can be counted on to have a pair of dice in their pocket.
The gambling is forgivable. Hell, even I have been known to place the occasional bet.
You also hear that Phil is disingenuous. Again, this isn’t too much of a stretch. Nobody likes signing autographs, but 46-year-old Phil keeps scribbling. And good for him! The motivations behind the autographs aren’t important to me.
I don’t fault Phil for not being genuine. That trait is perhaps a perquisite for any type of employment in the golf industry. After a certain number of interactions, all people suck. It’s very difficult to be nice to them. Somehow Phil keeps plugging along. Like I said, more power to him.
The Phil rumor that I can’t reconcile is that he’s always lived the same kind of life that pre sex therapy Tiger Woods lived. The golf media just never cared to report it because he’s such a fan favorite. Speaking as a person, and not as a fan of Tiger Woods, I absolutely, positively, cannot stomach media bias.
This year Phil’s impenetrable shield of niceness has yielded a few chinks. He was forced to give some money back after essentially admitting to insider trading. He lost a $5,000 bet to a 17-year-old Australian boy after goading the junior into making the bet on the first hole. There were some improprieties that occurred when he was hired as an assistant to recruit for his brothers A.S.U golf team. Something I don’t quite understand happened between him and a bankrupt member of Whisper Rock who tried to sell his equity share in the club. I like that reporting. Let’s call it a step in the right direction.
If those things weren’t enough, there are the things that you see. Phil in the ear of a rules official at Valhalla, furious that McIlroy was playing up instead of finishing his round tomorrow. A golfer playing two shots on to claim a championship on Monday morning would devastate tens of thousands of fans who had made their way to Louisville Kentucky to see a show. Phil had to know that.
There are the continual cell phone related freak-outs that seem more curmudgeonly with each outburst. It’s 2016 Phil. You’re not dealing with anything that every other professional golfer doesn’t have to deal with. They handle it much better than you do. Do your fucking job…
All those things ran through my head before I got out of bed Sunday morning. As cool as the atmosphere was at The Open Championship, there was no fucking way that I was going to pay 105 Pounds to watch a golf tournament that Mickelson had a good chance of winning.
So I killed some time at a doughnut shop, and some more at the art museum before the sharp green glow of a digital golf course pulled me into a pub near my hostel. I bellied up to the bar, and dejected at my decision to not view the final round from the spectator’s village, threw myself upon the mercy of the bartender.
“I’m a tourist, and I’ve only been drinking Glenmorangie this trip. Just pour me what you think I should try.” My server wasted no time climbing a ladder and pulling down a whole lot of delicious but very expensive looking bottles. She lined up a row of snifters and went to town. It occurred to me that there was no way four hours of sampling top shelf whiskey would add up to anything less than 105 pounds. I guess that will teach me to economize on vacation.
The bar tab related worries disappeared as I lost myself in a cloudy afternoon of superb scotch and sublime golf. As much as I hate Mickelson, I have to say that I respect his performance on Sunday. He played one hell of a golf match.
Watching him card that 65 was 1,000,000 times better than watching Shane Lowry shy away from the spotlight while Dustin Johnson narrowly avoided yet another defeat at the hands of the United States Golf Association. It was infinitely better than watching Jordan Spieth shit his pants in 1000 FPS slow motion on Master’s Sunday. America’s disingenuous, philandering, degenerate gambler sweetheart can play. Nothing I say can take that away from him.
Lucky for me, Henrik Stenson can play too. That 63 was incredible, the gutsiest performance I’ve seen on Sunday in a major champion since Y.E. Yang defeated Tiger in 2009. The 20ft put that Stenson sank on 18 wasn’t a dagger, it was a bayonet, one notched for maximum lethality. He eviscerated Phil. Spilled his guts all over the 18th green.
The 63 made me happy enough to flash the bartender a weary smile when I made the request to settle my enormous tab. She smiled at me, shook her head, and whisked me to the exit with a quick flick of her wrist.
Sometimes things work out exactly the way they’re supposed to.