There’s a cardboard tube in my kitchen and rolled up inside it is one of Lee Wybranski’s posters of the Open Championship’s return to Royal Portrush. Hard to believe it’ll soon be three years since that momentous day in the driving rain on the Dunluce links when an Irishman won the Open in Ireland…..and I was there!
Said poster had been purchased early in the week. It was, after all, a momentous, historical happening to have the greatest golf tournament in the world return to a club I’d been a member of all my life. I’d grown up in a place no one wanted to visit and people were afraid to come to, and now, against all the odds, the golfing world was beating a path to our door. After Shane Lowry had been declared “the Champion Golfer of the Year” Patricia suggested holding off on framing the poster until I had asked Shane to sign it for me. Working as I was at that time at all the majors, and having access to a great number of the players, this seemed to me to be a great idea and the trip to the framers was delayed.
Seven majors have come and gone since then and I haven’t been able to attend a single one. Six have been in the States and Covid travel restrictions meant I was unable to attend with the result that the poster is still in the tube, unadorned by Shane’s scrawl. The wonderful Americans I work for have long memories, seemingly, and they have asked me to work for them again this year at all the men’s majors – but my pesky Long Covid complications mean it’s highly unlikely I’ll be fit enough to manage a transatlantic crossing this year.
So, it’s all going to rest on this year’s Open at St Andrews, one of my favourite places. My goal is to be fit enough to work there, go armed with the poster and find Shane – I’ll even have a sharpie at the ready!
I formulated this plan while watching Shane in the final round of the Honda Classic at the weekend. The burly Irishman was bidding to win for the first time since that magical day in Portrush and after three rounds he was five shots behind overnight leader Daniel Berger, who was playing superlative stuff. Berger, however, went to bed on the Saturday night and got up the next day with somebody else’s arms on and after only five holes the pair of them (the two players, not Berger’s arms!) were tied. The American, good enough to play, and win, the anchor match in the Ryder Cup singles last year, was at odds with his game all day, finally shooting 74 to finish fourth.Meanwhile, Shane played beautifully round the demanding Champions course at PGA National in West Palm Beach, where he now lives, and found himself two ahead with six holes to play. Golf – and tournament golf in particular – has a habit of producing blow and counter-blow. Just as a Lowry victory was seeming assured enter stage right the talented Austrian Sepp Straka who had been hanging around all day on the leaders’ coattails.
A blistering run through the famous stretch of holes known as the Bear Trap contributed to a final flourish of three birdies in the last five holes for a 66 and a ten under par total. That left Shane needing a birdie at the last to force a play-off and in a monsoon of a downpour he could only manage a par. Sad for all the Irish supporters but historic for Austria who now have their first ever winner on the PGA Tour. No doubt Straka will now be focused on following his countryman Bernd Wiesberger on to the Ryder Cup team, thus becoming only the second Austrian to achieve that feat.Talking of Ryder Cup matters, last Monday the worst-kept secret in the game was confirmed when Zach Johnson was announced as the 2023 American Ryder Cup captain. In accepting the top role this five-time playing member and two-time vice-captain of the American team will be attempting to win overseas for the first time in thirty years. That’s a tall task but I suspect Johnson may well be up to it.
No word yet on the European captain but the smart money seems to be on Luke Donald.Zach seems to fly a bit under the radar as far as the public is concerned but I’ve always liked him. He has a green jacket and an Open title, won at the home of golf, tucked away in his locker so his playing credentials are tip-top. I always found him courteous and thoughtful when interviewing him and I’ll never forget him at his Ryder Cup debut at the The K Club in 2006. He was drawn to play in the singles against Darren Clarke who had tragically lost his wife, Heather, to cancer six weeks previously. Darren sealed an emotional win on the 16th green in front of an emotional home gallery that rose as one from their seats in the grandstand to serenade him with the “Fields of Athenry”.
There wasn’t a dry eye in the house and such scenes had never hitherto been witnessed at a Ryder Cup. The rookie Ryder Cupper Zach Johnson was the perfect gent. He fully embraced Darren at the end of the match, completely getting the bigger picture and supporting the Irishman as best he could, one human being to another.
It was one of those times you realise there are just so many things bigger than you………….and golf.