Open ended dreams
“Great Uncle Stan, bless his knee length socks, wasn’t much of a golfer...”
Sandy Lyle’s instructional book ‘Learning Golf the Lyle Way’ is a treasured first volume in my work in progress golf library.
I’d be fibbing if I said I devoured every one of the Scot’s undoubtedly canny tips, let alone hung on every word. It’s clear, for example, that the chapter on the proper diet for low scores was skipped.
I wasn’t much of a reader back in 1986 when the book was first published, a year after Lyle lifted the Claret Jug at Royal St. George’s.
Looking back I suspect the gift from my dear Nana was actually a ploy by my Mother to get me to read something, indeed anything. But like most Kiwi kids, I was more interested in being outside pretending to be an All Black or a test cricketer in the garden.
My first true golf hero happened to be Nana’s brother. Great Uncle Stan was a man who deserved the “great” prefix for many reasons, not least for a hops can collection to behold. But it was an introduction to the game, on a 9-holer with greens ring-fenced to keep the ewes and their lambs out, that lured me into his world. The barriers were often breached, for the record.
Uncle Stan, bless his knee length (and presumably cotton) socks, wasn’t much of a golfer but he hooked me instantly with the promise of graduating to my hometown 18-holer once I broke 50 at Solway Park GC. It took a while but those were magical, formative days.
I guess I can trace my love affair with The Open and links golf back to Lyle’s book but he and Uncle Stan were soon forced to give way to Nick Faldo. How I marvelled (and still do) at Faldo’s ball striking as he became “the winner of the gold medal and champion golfer of the year” for the first of three times in 1987. Solway Park became my Muirfield and later my Old Course, especially in summer when a lack of irrigation left the fairways parched save for the fresh sheep dung.
There wasn’t a pro at my home club once I eventually cracked 50 but it didn’t matter. I had Faldo to mimic and lapped up every VHS tape and magazine article featuring my boyhood hero I could find. Imagine learning that the Englishman only ever clipped his fingernails on a Monday so as not to upset his touch with the putter come tournament time. Crazy genius.
The closest I ever came to replicating Faldo was the red and white diamond Argyle sweater I begged Mum to buy me. It wasn’t quite as ghastly as the black turtleneck skivvy/yellow sweater combo Faldo wore to victory at Muirfield in ’87 but it sure made me feel like a player.
Thankfully we’ve moved on from the awful knitwear era and so has the game. You can bet the winner at Royal Birkdale this year will be a power-hitting antithesis to the ‘87 model Faldo who swung, all maple syrup like, to 18 straight pars at Muirfield.
Nowadays I marvel at Faldo’s analysis from the TV commentary booth and can’t quite believe I might be working the same media compound at Birkdale. Not bad for a kid who didn’t read much I suppose. It will be a fourth Open in the flesh, the second as a hack, and I know it will be memorable even if last year’s Stenson v Lefty showdown at Royal Troon will take some beating. Whatever transpires, I’ll be forever grateful to Sandy, Sir Nick and Uncle Stan for the opportunity. Enjoy the best major of the year.