Americans love the Open, and the feeling’s mutual
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