Friday, July 18, 2008

SOUTHPORT, England – I’ve just spent an hour in the grandstand behind the 17th green at Royal Birkdale. But you probably guessed that by looking at my face, which has the outline of my glasses burnt into it.

It’s not sunburn. It’s windburn. My seat in the back row faced directly into a steady 25-mph zephyr, and I wasn’t there ten minutes before I started crying uncle. “You’ve got it wrong, guy,” said the apochryphal Brit to my left. “You’re supposed to yell, “Get in the hole!” Grandstand_300 Now, I’m the rugged, outdoor type, hardened by years of barbecuing on a backyard grill. But prolonged exposure to the Lancashire wind is analagous to the Chinese water torture or the Death of a Thousand Cuts. I had on a ballcap, and over the ballcap I had a knit cap pulled down to cover my ears, and I had a rain jacket zipped up to my chin. That didn’t stop the wind from scouring my face like a loofah.

My neighbors, I have to say, didn’t seem to be bothered. The grandstand was packed, even though the golfers on display were mostly relative unknowns lining up for the guillotine. Danny Chia tapped in for a routine par –- well, maybe “routine” is the wrong word, since the Malaysian pro was 22-over par –- and the crowd gave him a smattering of applause. A few minutes later, amateur Chris Wood of England, 6-over par at the time, got up-and-down from the back right bunker. My neighbors cheered, and the woman in front of me turned to her husband and said, “He’s all knobby, isn’t he?” -- referring to the stick-figure Wood -- “nothing but bones. It’s a wonder he can stand up in this weather.”

The wonder, to me, is the way these British golf fans handle the elements. They scramble over the dunes with an umbrella for a walking stick, and when the rain comes they pop the brolly and stand outside the ropes, patient and uncomplaining. Or they plant themselves for hours on a hard, plastic chair, as I did, and wait to see what (or who) blows by.

“The older you get,” Picasso said, “the stronger the wind gets –- and it’s always in your face.”

Tell me about it, Pablo.
(Photo: Robert Beck/SI)

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