Open ended dreams

Golf Digest Middle East - - Editor's Letter - KENT GRAY kent.gray@mo­ti­vate.ae Twit­ter: @Ken­tGrayGolf / @GolfDi­gestME

“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.

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