ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Less than 12 hours after Louis Oosthuizen closed out one of the most dominant performances in Open Championship history, the Old Course reopened for business. Dog-walkers and scores of tourists milled about the 18th hole Monday morning, snapping pictures of the Valley of Sin, the Royal & Ancient clubhouse and whatever other monuments of golfdom they fancied sticking in a frame back home. The place felt more like a museum, or an old battlefield, than a golf course.
Golfers — the amateur kind — patiently waited for their turns on the first tee. Ivor Robson, the longtime Open starter, wasn’t there (the man deserved a break after four days of trying to pronounce Oosthuizen — it’s WUHST-hy-zen … I think), but a rowdy pack of teens parked in the grandstand along the first fairway was more than enough gallery to ice an 18-handicapper. One poor chap topped his tee ball 40 yards, drawing spirited cheers. The sarcastic kind.
In the Old Tom Morris Golf Shop, just off the home hole green, vendors continued to peddle Open shirts and hats and headcovers — and for five quid a divot repair tool. Post-Open discounts? Nae, nowhere to be found. Down at the Swilcan Bridge, a scrum of fans waited their turn to climb aboard for a photo-op. They looked much happier than Colin Montgomerie, who trudged over the 700-year-old arch on Sunday — possibly his last crossing in an Open — with his head bowed and his long arms dangling at his sides. “That [bridge] is for winners,” Monty glumly declared. “I don’t think I should use it at all.”
Up in the Auld Toon, the squawks of seagulls and scent of bacon rolls filled the air and large blue plastic bins lined the streets. Some of the containers were jammed with empty beer bottles and pizza boxes, vestiges of a long week of ale-soaked revelry. At 10:30 or so, Tom Watson rolled up Market Street riding shotgun in a courtesy car. Unable to summon the magic of his thrilling run at Turnberry in 2009, Watson missed the cut by two. But three days later, he was still in St. Andrews, still waving to the locals, still all smiles. Padraig Harrington was in no rush to go home either, despite also missing out on a weekend tee time. On Saturday afternoon, Paddy, the consummate grinder, banged a few buckets on the range before retiring to West Sands beach to play with his kids. That’s the gravitational pull of this place. Guys don’t want to leave.
Alas the show must go on — to Stockholm and then Killarney for the European pros, to Ontario and then West Virginia for the Americans. After that, it’s on to bratwurst country — hey, it beats haggis — for the final major of 2010, the PGA Championship at Wisconsin’s Whistling Straits.
That’ll be a home game for Madison’s Steve Stricker, who many expected to contend at the 139th Open. Instead he finished tied for 55th. On Monday evening Stricker shuffled around a bookshop in London’s Heathrow Airport. In baggy jeans with fashionable tears and an army green Adidas hat pulled low over his brow, Stricker stopped at a newsstand to browse some of the broadsheets. “KING LOUIS,” proclaimed The Daily Mail. “MY DADDY, THE OPEN CHAMPION,” trumpeted The Daily Telegraph. Beneath that headline was a picture of the South African winner kissing his wife, Nel-Mare, who was holding their infant daughter, Jana. It wasn’t hard to guess what Stricker, the world’s No. 4, but 0-for-47 in the majors, might have been thinking: “Louis Oosthuizen? Geez, when will my time come?”
It will be the Old Course’s time again in 2015, or perhaps ’16 should the R&A want to get the links on track to host the 150th Open in 2021. Some wonks have suggested that the Old Lady has outlived her usefulness, that without wind or rain or the Loch Ness Monster guarding the 18th green, she’s too easy, too likely to produce a runaway winner (see Tiger by eight in 2000, Tiger by five in ’05, and now Wusty by seven). “St Andrews has a habit of applying the chloroform rag,” moaned Mark Reason of the Telegraph. It’s an inane argument, because whether an Old Course victor prevails by one or 21 — and I’d submit that the recent trend is mere coincidence — a St. Andrews Open remains one of the best spectator experiences in all of sports, and the place to win an Open. Just ask Phil Mickelson.
On Monday afternoon, Oosthuizen returned to the Swilcan Bridge, this time sheepishly toting the claret jug. The previous evening Oosthuizen had resisted the tradition of filling the jug with bubbly or beer or some other libation. “To me, it’s too special,” he said. “I just looked at it and held it in my arms all night. I didn’t want anything else in my hands.”
That wasn’t the case at the pub in the Dunvegan Hotel, just up the road from the 18th green. On Sunday night, the bartenders couldn’t pour the Tennents or Guinness or any of its 50-plus varieties of single-malt whiskies fast enough. Until, that is, the cops showed up.
Just before midnight two stern-faced bobbies marched in to shutter the joint, much to the dismay of the tourists jammed inside. The Dunvegan complied, and with two simple words one of its bartenders notified the patrons that Open week was officially over.