E-card No. 5
Saturday night, July 18, 2015
St. Andrews, Scotland
I come here to watch the golf, play the golf, write-up the golf and, most especially, read the golf. I love reading the papers here, the golf coverage and everything else, and I’m not even talking about the London tabs with their royal obsession. I start my mornings with The Guardian and The Independent. My breakfast place supplies The Times. When you read an obit in any of those papers, you feel like you just had high tea with the dearly departed. Some of the coverage of the new Harper Lee book has a deep rigor to it—an insightful look of our own Southern culture that has the benefit of coming from the outside. A woman critic in The Guardian mocked the simplicity of Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Once, I had been interested in naming our son Atticus. We went for Ian instead, borrowing it from a caddie I had met, here in the kingdom and I’m glad we did.
In The Times today, a writer named Rick Broadbent refers to the seagulls that fly over the Old Course like mad MetLife blimps as “sadistic.” I grew tired of their screeches a long time ago but Mr. Broadbent has made me see these flying rodents in a whole new way. A nearby caption on a photo depicting men in goulashes pushing away standing water on the first green of the Old Course begins with these words: “The Heavens Open.” These guys are good, the gents with their brooms and the ladies and gents writing deadline cutlines.
But cleverness alone does not keep a reader coming back day after day and year after year. What the British papers really do, when it is all said and done, is give you something to think about for the rest of the day. Over the course of time, the daily habit should expand your life view in a way that reading narrowly off your phone will never, ever do. Now that I cannot get The New York Times in many of the Marriotts in which I stay stateside I have reluctantly resorted to reading the so-called paper of record on a tiny-lighted screen. It is not at all the same experience. It is the happenstance that comes from turning pages that makes serious newspaper reading the deep experience it is.
Ewan Murray, in Saturday morning’s Guardian, wrote that if “predicted wind gusts reaching 45 miles per hour this afternoon do arrive, further chaos will ensue. Recent days have taught us, though, not to bank on that. The fun of the unknown has become a tale in itself. On the links, a war of attrition is already underway.” Mr. Murray was prescient. Dustin Johnson played the final three holes of his second round late on Saturday in a benign, almost war helping breeze that allowed him to turn the par-4 home hole into a simple par-3: cut driver, two putts, closing birdie, 36-hole leader by a shot. Paul Lawrie’s inability to make three there minutes later, in the same warmish breeze, left him at 8-under through two rounds and two shots back. We will know later if that was an act of attrition or not.
That is because (as I no doubt have read somewhere) some pars are bogeys and some bogeys are more dispiriting than others. As for how the game and its practitioners are described here, the writers tend to give numbers a wide berth and go instead for that old standby that Peter Alliss loves and used so well in his writing and on the BBC: words. Here is Paul Mahoney in the Saturday Independent on Long John Daly, 20 years after he won the Open at St. Andrews: “No science labs have analyzed his swing path and torque and launch angle statistics. Daly is an artist.”
Paul will surely use different sentences, even though he won’t really need to, to describe Dustin Johnson in tomorrow’s paper. That is, if Johnson, who plays in the Daly tradition, should continue to stay on top of this war of attrition.
I will pick up tomorrow’s papers as I have each day here, at a shop on South Street called J & G Innes, which once housed the offices of The St. Andrews Citizen. You can smell fresh newsprint when you walk in and papers, high neat stacks of them, are on the front counter, near the till. Maybe I could do all my reading online and save a tree over the course of a lifetime, but I would miss the gent at the Innes shop saying to me by way of goodbye, “All right then.” I can’t use the phrase myself but it’s cool when he does.