On Wednesday morning, I went for a jog along the long, wide, flat beach that separates Torrey Pines from the Pacific Ocean. Actually, the 100-foot-high sandstone cliffs are the first obstacle, then the beach.
The British Open, by tradition, is played "in sight and sound of the sea," to use a phrase Peter Alliss once used with me many years ago. The game and the first courses came out of the sea, so it seems like a fitting phrase for that championship. But only two U.S. Open courses are truly seaside: Pebble Beach, which is spectacular, and now Torrey Pines, which is spectacular, too. The air smells like the sea; the grass has a brownish, seaside tint to it; the whole thing is great.
Anyway, back to the jog. For one stretch, I was on the back for about two miles and did not see a single other person. In Southern California, this is really unlikely, especially given how slowly I jog. On the tops of the cliffs, I could see the USGA tents and some spectators, but on the beach in the morning not a soul. Nothing to remind me of golf in any way. Just seaweed, sea glass, rocks smoothed by years in the ocean, crashing surf. And then I came upon it: a single golf ball, half-submerged in the sand.
I picked it up, hoping that it would have some kind of professional markings on it, like you see in the Titleist ads. The ball turned out to be a TaylorMade, bright white, surlyn cover, brand new, not a mark or marking on it. Not a Tour ball, but one that somebody whacked out to sea from one of Torrey's cliff-side holes.
For some odd reason, I thought of Charlton Heston in the original "Planet of the Apes," when he comes upon a mostly submerged Statue of Liberty and screams, "You maniacs! You blew it up!" That was shot on a beach in Malibu, 120 miles or so up the coast. In mellow La Jolla, nobody gets quite so worked up. I pocketed the ball, brought it back to the hotel and popped it in the golf bag, with all my yard-sale balls.