British Open 2015: Postcard Stories From St. Andrews, July 15
E-card No. 2
Wednesday night, July 15
St. Andrews, Scotland
If you’re staying in town, as I am, you can follow the caddies to the course. They stick out like broomstick putters in a Sunday bag, in their waterproofs, measuring devices clipped to their belts, wearing the hats of the great manufacturers. You can follow the caddies, or you can follow the painful song of the seagulls, louder and louder as you get closer to the sea. How do they not get hoarse? I wish they would.
Jordan Spieth, in a 9:30 a.m. press conference, talked about getting up at 4:30 in the morning, as his body adjusted from Quad Cities time. Half-four is about when the sun comes up, and when the gulls begin choir practice.
Spieth is the same age, pretty much, as my daughter and son. I’m sure many of us look at him in similar terms. His intelligence, poise and confidence are remarkable, as is his humility. Whenever he can, he uses we instead of I. It comes naturally to him. It’s probably a smart way to look at the game. I’m not out here by myself. He used the word feels on several occasions. I’m getting my feels. As far as I know, this is a new golf word (when used in the plural) invented by Tiger Woods. Somewhere in some AJGA event somewhere, there’s no doubt a kid in a Rickie Fowler hat standing on the range, talking about his feels with his team. That is, the kid’s mom.
Later in the day, Tom Watson came into the press tent for a sort of valedictory press conference. He was wearing an Adams baseball hat. Next door, in the British Golf Museum, there’s the plaid wool British racing cap—no corporate logo—he wore when he won his first Open, at Carnoustie in 1975.
Watson talked about the professional game being in “good stead” but expressed his worries about the amateur game. He noted, as he has before, about how people today, including himself, spend so much of their time on social media, and how it cuts into their golf time. It made me realize that I have never seen Jordan Spieth on a cellphone. Not while waiting for a car or sitting in a locker room or after fishing through his bag, post-round. There’s not another top player about whom I could say that. I’ve never seen Spieth on a phone, and I’ve never seen Tiger Woods in a restaurant. I must be eating in the wrong places.
The four p.m. event, where they had 20 or so past champions playing a four-hole exhibition, was a thorough delight. I had never seen Peter Thomson, the Australian who won five Opens in the ‘50s and ‘60s, hit a ball in person before. He’s 85 and he has a beautiful grip and perfect rhythm. Some of this golf stuff you cannot teach. For the exhibition, they played one, two, 17 and 18. On the last, Thomson hit cut driver of the tee followed by a flush driver off the deck on a fairway harder than your kitchen floor. Must be nice, to have all that talent. Phil Mickelson, one of his playing partners, helped Mr. Thomson over the Swilcan Burn Bridge by hooking an arm in his. Ernie Els pulled out a seat for him, post-round, when they went to sit at a table and sign some flags. The old champ’s two grandchildren, both at university in Melbourne and right about Jordan Spieth’s age—stood devotedly nearby. You could just tell: This Peter Thomson has lived his life well. For years, he owned a home in St. Andrews. I don’t know how you could do much better.
At about 8 p.m., there was a golfer on the beach between the course and St. Andrews Bay, hitting balls with a swing coach. Who it was I could not tell you—not somebody in the tournament—but he had a nice swing and he was hitting balls towards the sea and the setting sun and nobody was chasing him away. As Watson noted, golf really is part of the culture, here in Scotland. His point was that even if they don’t play it, a lot of Scots understand it. The beach sand was as firm as the Old Course fairways and you couldn’t have a better place to practice.
On the practice green at the Champions exhibition, it was neat to see Bill Rogers (fat-gripped putter) and Nick Faldo (claw grip) and Tony Jacklin (broomstick putter) all in one place. It kind of made you think about the players who never won an Open but likely should have: Jean van de Velde and Bernhard Langer and Ian Woosnam came immediately to mind.
At dinner, at an Indian restaurant in town, Tom Lehman, winner of the ’96 Open, was eating with family and friends one table over from mine. Nobody in his group looked to be in any rush to go anywhere, and nobody was on a phone. How nice. If you want good Indian food, this is the place to be.