Amer­i­cans love the Open, and the feel­ing’s mu­tual

The Herald - Herald Sport - - FRONT PAGE - HUGH MAC­DON­ALD

ST AN­DREWS 2010. It is as windy as Charles Hawtrey fac­ing Dennis Lillee bowl­ing the fi­nal over of the Ashes with a hand grenade. I re­pair to a favourite spot. I had brought my tool­kit. I sit up on the stand next to the 16th green with my med­i­ta­tion im­me­di­ately but gen­tly in­ter­rupted by the chap sit­ting to my right. “Is it al­ways like this?” he asks in an Amer­i­can ac­cent, his eyes squint­ing in the sun­shine as he gazes down into the frankly fab­u­lous set­ting of the town.

“No,” I re­ply. “In Novem­ber, it be­comes un­com­monly hu­mid.” I had mo­men­tar­ily for­got­ten that Amer­i­cans gen­er­ally re­gard irony as some­thing to press a shirt. So he pressed on with in­tro­duc­tions of him­self as Dwight and son Dwight Ju­nior who came from Lit­tle Pitcher of But­ter­milk in Arkansas or some such. They had been in Paris and de­cided to come to the Open for the day. Se­ri­ously. They had flown to Glesca, hired a car and headed to Fife. They were do­ing the re­verse that night.

“A long day for a taste of the Open,” I ven­tured. Dwight replied: “It’s been worth it. And back home I have driven fur­ther for a soda.” What­ever that may be.

It was a re­minder of how in­te­gral the Amer­i­cans have been to our great cham­pi­onship, through spec­ta­tors, jour­nal­ists and play­ers from Ho­gan, through Palmer and Nick­laus, Woods and now on to the next gen­er­a­tion.

St An­drews 2005. Another beau­ti­ful day and Tom Wat­son has made the cut. I wan­der out to the press area be­hind the 18th green and gen­tly in­quire of a media of­fi­cer if it would be pos­si­ble to talk to the great man. It is my first Open as a writer. I have suf­fered a sea­son when I have been knocked back for an in­ter­view by a suc­ces­sion of part­time foot­ballers. So I am hardly op­ti­mistic.

Mo­ments later, though, Mr Wat­son comes over and ap­pears so keen to chat he makes Graham Nor­ton seem pos­i­tively de­mure. He an­swers all ques­tions, neatly sidestep­ping an at­tempt to in­ves­ti­gate the tur­bu­lent years when his drink­ing was scru­ti­nised. He is forth­right, gen­er­ous and un­com­monly ac­com­mo­dat­ing to his sole in­ter­roga­tor, a jour­nal­ist from the Glas­gow Hicksville.

When ap­prised he has given me enough ma­te­rial for a se­ries rather than a fea­ture, he smiles in that Aw Shucks way and wishes me a good day. “Thanks to you I have al­ready had one,” I say un­heeded as he has walked away in that dis­tinc­tive gait of a Mid­west farmer and is soon to dis­ap­pear in the club­house.

Four years later, when idly wait­ing for a bus pass, he al­most won the Open at Turn­berry. He has, of course, al­ready won five of them but never at St An­drews where he is play­ing his fi­nal Open.

It is trite but ap­pro­pri­ate, though, to claim that Wat­son has be­come some­thing more than just a great golfer to the Scot­tish public. This is in part be­cause of his suc­cess on Scot­tish soil, in part to his per­son­al­ity and in part, too, to his en­dur­ing tal­ent. I know as much about golf as I do about writ­ing a col­umn but it is ob­vi­ous that Wat­son once found links golf in­fu­ri­at­ing, al­most un­fair. But he used his mind, his feel and his tal­ent to adapt to it bril­liantly.

He has made his mis­takes. He once took on the 17th with Amer­i­can-style golf and con­se­quently aban­doned all hope of win­ning that cham­pi­onship at the home of golf. He could be for­given for hav­ing a moan about this or a whinge about the pe­cu­liar­i­ties of play­ing into a wind, with a wind be­hind, with a cross­wind some­times all on the same hole.

In­stead, he gave the Open its proper place and re­alised he had to learn. He had to change at times, while main­tain­ing the faith in his abil­ity. It is a jour­ney that many pro­fes­sional golfers, par­tic­u­larly those from the USA, have to make to win an Open.

They can­not play in the same man­ner as brought them home the The Crank Aka Metam­phetamine Open in Smok­ing Pipe, Wis­con­sin.

They must fid­dle with the swing and ad­just the shots that brought them mil­lions.

This ap­plies to most golfers not born next to a links, of course, but I find it strangely laud­able in the Yanks.

It is why I ap­plauded Phil Mick­el­son’s vic­tory even though I have so many reser­va­tions about him that I have some­times to ad­dress him through a book­ing agent.

This Amer­i­can in­va­sion has not only added en­ter­tain­ment but lus­tre to the great­est golf tour­na­ment of them all. It has also given us not only the sight of such as Nick­laus, Woods and Wat­son win­ning in spec­tac­u­lar fash­ion but it of­fers all of us the chance to cre­ate a per­sonal mem­ory.

Wat­son was once un­done on the 17th but I will re­mem­ber him and his words be­hind the 18th green. And Dwight and Ju­nior on the 16th. The lat­ter with a fer­vent prayer that they did not travel sub­se­quently to St An­drews in Novem­ber with Hawai­ian shirts and shorts.

ON MON­DAY Matthew Lind­say

I ap­plauded Phil Mick­el­son’s vic­tory even though I have so many reser­va­tions about him that I have some­times to ad­dress him through a book­ing agent

HEY MOM, I WON: Mark Cal­cavec­chia mod­i­fied his game in or­der to take the Claret Jug back to the US in 1989

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