An outsider's look at the British Open

An outsider’s look at the British Open


I love everything about the Open: the ancient courses, the
anoraked dourness of the ancient spectators, the ancient
enormity of it all. As a veteran of 11 Open campaigns, I can’t
think of a former player who could drive you straighter between
the famous stone walls of the Open’s Amnesia Lane
than I. (Okay, so there are hundreds that could – I’m just saying I can’t
think of any.) Here, then, is my warts-and-all guide to the Open…

My Top 3 British Open moments
1. Simply qualifying for the first time in 1979 is top of this heap. I
was 20. Today if you’re majorless at 20, you’re dried up like a kipper.
2. In 1995 at St. Andrews I was leaving a clammy trail up the
leaderboard until I got to the par-4 12th in the fourth round, where
I drove it on the green, putted off the green, hit it back on the green,
hit it off again, and…hell, I’m bored remembering it. I made six.
3. Playing with Fuzzy for the last two rounds of the ’94 Open at
Turnberry, where I tied for fourth. Arnold Palmer is an easy guy to
play with, but you’re intimidated – it’s Arnold F—ing Palmer! But
I was at ease with Fuzzy, because he really is fuzzy. And warm…

Worst weather (and caddie)
At Turnberry in 1986, the wind blew so hard that if a drop didn’t
hit you, it missed Scotland and landed in Holland. On the 9th tee, I
struggled out from behind my umbrella, took a swipe into the flying
sleet – whack! – then scuttled back and asked my caddie, Rodney,
“Where’d that go?” Rodney, who hadn’t even noticed I’d been gone,
looked at me blankly and said, “Where’d what go?”

Worst Opensplosion
Jean Van de Velde at Carnoustie, 1999. OMG, what a giant clusteryou-
know-what this was. Kermit the Frog would have won the Open
from that final tee. The most amazing thing was that he managed
to tie and get into the playoff! In the end, it was a very good seven.

Worst Almostsplosion
Mark Calcavecchia in 1989 at Troon. With his shirt sticking out of
his zipper, Calc looked like a laundry basket in a pair of golf shoes.
And for a stretch he played like one. He duck-hooked his way up No.
11 and made par. Then on No. 12, he hit his third shot an inch behind
the ball – and bunt-duffed it into the hole. On the fly. If he’d missed
the cup he was looking at a 9. From that point, he played like a god.

My top 5 favorite British Open courses
1. St. Andrews: It’s like playing in a graveyard. It’s so incredibly
beautiful when the shadows hit the swales and hollows.
2. Muirfield
3. Birkdale
4. Carnoustie
5. Royal Lytham

My least favorite British Open course
This year’s host, Royal St. George’s. Some like it – mostly the
ones who have won there – and then there’s everybody else. You
can’t hit the fairways. The shots are as blind as Stevie Wonder.
I like it more than I used to, but that’s because I don’t have to
play it anymore.

Top 3 prettiest Open views
1. St. Andrews, anywhere, at dawn or sundown.
2. Turnberry, because I can see my house in Northern Ireland –
and from my house I can see Turnberry.
3. The approach shot on No. 18 at Muirfield, because it’s hopefully
the last shot you’ll have to hit, which means the round
is nearly over, thank God, because that course kicked my ass.

The toughest Open competitor I ever saw
I played with Tom Watson at Troon. He’s the best bad-weather
player of all time. Links golf, downpours – that was his wheelhouse.
When everyone else was suffering, he was loving it. A lot
of times, the way you win the Open is to be the guy who loses
the least. Which, sadly, leads me to…

The greatest never-was moment
Tom Watson, coming thisclose to victory at age 59, at Turnberry
in 2009. It’s the greatest major performance by anyone who didn’t
win. All Tom needed from the gods on the 72nd green was a bad
bounce. Instead, he got a dreadful bounce. It would have been the
greatest feat in the history of golf. I was in tears. I wanted him to win
more than I ever wanted to win anything
myself. I almost feel sorry for Stewart
Cink. This will always be the one Watson
lost, not the one Stewart won. It hurts
just thinking about it. So let’s not…