Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A few hours ago, about 156 lucky stiffs teed off at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, in the 130th Open Championship. I played my first Open there in 1979 and my last one, for which I had to qualify, in 1996. It was right at what turned out to be the end of my playing career, but I couldn't resist giving it one last shot.

The Open Championship was my favorite golf tournament in all the world. However, I had putted so badly in the weeks leading up to the event that for the qualifying I borrowed a long putter from Sam Torrance, and subsequently, I made everything I looked at for two days. I was so impressed with this new weapon, I told one of the guys with whom I was sharing a rented house to hide my old John Reuter Jr. Bulls Eye, so I couldn't be tempted to put it back in my bag. I had used this little putter all my career, but I believed it had seen its last day.

As it turned out, I putted like a motorboat that week and missed the cut by a shot. My caddie packed up the sticks and I was gone in a huff. A few weeks later, after struggling with my new broomstick, I decided to put the little guy back. Only one problem -- it was hidden in a house somewhere in Lytham. I haven't seen it since.

With what seems like a half-day of tee times, Lytham can toss a player some strange breaks, even though it's the only Open venue with no view of the sea. The wind can kick up and punish part of the field and then lay down and gently massage the other guys for the rest of the day. If the outward half is a breeze, then the chances are coming home will be a task for sure. The phrase, "Out in a Rolls-Royce, back in a wheelbarrow," might have been coined for this place, after a blue northwester.

In major championship golf, there is no feeling quite like struggling into a stiff breeze over the final few holes at 9:30 p.m. when you've spent half the day watching most of the field play in perfect conditions. All the fans have gone home, and the local Cub Scout pack is out emptying the trash cans, picking up the flotsam and jetsam that is tumbling around in the rough, although by the look of the hairy stuff this year, some of the scouts might be in danger of disappearing. It's the loneliest major at that stage for sure, although I have a feeling there might be a few who'll hang on in the gloom to see Tiger.

But as the tailenders trudge into the canyon, a couple of them will have played better than they ever dreamed possible. In the Open, there's always some unknown soldier who rises to the occasion early, but succumbs to the withering yellow glare of that big scoreboard when he realizes where he is. First over the top, into the breach! Oh my God, I'm hit! I know, I was that soldier more than once.

The Open Championship doesn't throw up too many fluke winners, and Royal Lytham & St. Annes is not likely to start any such trend this year. It's a golf course that doesn't get enough credit, an intimate venue that I believe is as good a test as any other course on the rota. We'll be broadcasting a Senior Tour event from Chicago, but keeping an eye and an ear out for Curtis and the boys at ABC and ESPN. It might be the only event I really, really miss.

Oh, yeah, and if anyone over there hears about a little old Bulls Eye with a tiny, "DF," engraved into the heel turning up in someone's bedroom, do me a favor, old boy, and give it to someone who knows me.

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