Nearly….almost……if only…..not quite.
All words and phrases you never want to hear or employ in most contexts never mind a sporting one. Unfortunately, they all came into their own for Rory fans during a gut-churning, stomach-sickening, inward nine over the Old Course last Sunday at the 150th Open. And the weekend had started so well…….
Saturday dawned in our household with eyes firmly fixed on the other side of the world and the third match in the series between the All Blacks and Ireland. The former had won the opening game but Ireland had squared the series and it was now all to play for in the decider. Amidst much whooping and hollering the boys in green triumphed in an epic struggle against the mighty New Zealanders.
It’s a rare occurrence in this life if you can ever be the first to achieve something and this was the first time Ireland had ever won a test in New Zealand, let alone a series. To beat the All Blacks in a series on their home turf is an achievement of such staggering, gigantic proportions that it’s only been done a handful of times and this win has elevated the team from the Emerald Isle to the No 1 spot in the world.Meanwhile, in St Andrews that morning, Rory was watching and, as he admitted, feeling a little “emotional”.
He would start each day by looking out of his hotel window across the 1st and 18th fairways of the Old Course and visualising his name at the top of that giant, iconic, yellow Open scoreboard. And if he needed any further inspiration to step out and remain there his beloved rugby team had just provided it. Rory duly obliged that Saturday with a 66, matching the talented Norwegian Viktor Hovland, the pair opening up a four-shot lead over the Camerons, Young and Smith. It was all going so well at this point.
Now, much is made of the difficulties and pressures of the late starts for the weekend leaders at majors. Spare a thought for the fans too. For us, it seemed an eternity until the names of Hovland and McIlroy were announced on the 1st tee at 14.50 – an interminable number of hours of build-up of nervous energy, of hope that the eight-year major drought was about to come to an end. Always lurking, however, is the understanding that this is golf, this is sport and anything can, and frequently does, happen.A friend and fellow Rory fan in Ireland watched the first couple of holes, then couldn’t take it any more, put the broadcast on to record and went out to cut the grass. Somehow, watching on a delay of an hour or so and knowing that what she was seeing had already happened, was the only way she could watch.
As for Patricia and me, we were also a bag of nerves and when I said to her, “how soon can we have a drink?” the response was instant. “Now,” she said. I looked at my watch. It was 3.20pm.
And so we agonised through the afternoon, willing on a becalmed McIlroy who had misplaced the match needed to light the blue touchpaper and reluctantly saluting the flawless play of Cam Smith. Being the hunter for the first two thirds of that final round enabled Smith’s devastating burst of five birdies with which he started the back nine. Much easier having ground to make up than sitting with the lead when still a long way from the finishing line. Ah, the elusive psychology of the game – winning an Open is about so much than driving, iron play, chipping and putting.
Smith was faultless in that final round and Rory couldn’t get going but spare a thought for Cameron Young who, playing in his first Open, shot a final round 65 when in contention and still didn’t win. A non-golfing pal summed it up: “Cameron with the horrid hairstyle deserved to win.”So, in the end we have Cam Smith as Champion Golfer of the Year. How worthy he will be of that title remains to be seen if we are to believe the rumours of his departure to join the LIV Golf series. Is he prepared to embrace the inherent responsibilities that go with being the Champion Golfer or will he ride off into the Saudi sunset for endless saddlebags of cash?
Off the course the professional game is in turmoil and the latest rumours indicate an increasing interest from the Saudis in buying the LPGA (Ladies’ Professional Golf Association). That, my friends, may well herald the end of my interest and love for the professional end of our sport and hasten the decimation of the majority of our subject matter for this little blog.
After all, there are only so many times I can allow Patricia to post pictures of herself and other old guys and dolls playing Whittington Heath!