I had a very different sort of week planned for myself. It was supposed, of course, to be the week of the Open Championship at Royal St George’s and I was actually looking forward to putting my feet up at home and watching all the action – morning, noon and night. It was to be my first absence from the greatest golf event of them all since 1997 and although tinged with a modicum of regret I was ready to embrace it wholeheartedly. For goodness sake, I had my plans laid by the turn of the year!
I had skilfully engineered my better half into a motorbike trip through Austria with one of his mates so there was absolutely no danger of a plaintive request to watch something other than golf for just five minutes….please!!! I had decided to fill the freezer with all sorts of goodies so no serious cooking would be required and I had organised the presence of the best supplier of red wine in the country as well as the most irreverent, amusing commentator on the game, all wrapped up in one person, namely, big sis Patricia.
Alas, as we all know, the Open is not coming to pass this year, the 2020 edition having been cancelled by the R&A some considerable time ago. The motorbike trip isn’t happening either but secret plans are up my sleeve for Him Indoors to don his chef’s apron and look after the freezer filling. Patricia is still gracing us with her presence and the cellar doors are open awaiting all donations of liquid refreshment, specifically robust reds. But……..what on earth are we going to watch…..?
Let me introduce you to “The Open for The Ages”. The brainchild of Malcolm Booth, the R&A’s Sales and Marketing Director, this virtual reality Open will feature former winners of the Claret Jug with footage from previous Open Championships imaginatively woven together to create a new story of a virtual Open played over the Old Course at St Andrews. Thursday to Saturday will feature small “teasers” setting up the drama for a full-scale final day on Sunday when play will culminate in the crowning of the winner of the virtual title ‘Champion Golfer of the Year 2020’.
Adding to the drama is the fact that the commentators have not been told of the outcome of the contest, so for them it is akin to commentating on live sport. And, in case you are wondering, the Champion has already been voted for by followers of the R&A’s various social media sites. It’s not the Open as we know it but it sounds like fun, is massively inventive and if they pull it off, it could be a great watch. And anyway, we all knew it would take something very, very different to follow Shane Lowry’s win at Portrush last year!
Everyone has their favourite Opens, usually dependent on the outcome and a host of other little vignettes that make the week memorable, whether you’re there in person or not. I was spoiled from the outset as the first Open Championship I attended was in 1977 at the sun scorched links of Turnberry when Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson left the rest of the field behind in spectacular fashion with outstanding play. These two titans were at the top of their games but it was their sportsmanship and their genuine pleasure in the ferocity of the struggle that left a lasting impression on me. They never hoped their opponent would falter – rather they hoped he would play his best. Each player simply wanted to come out on top. It was terrific.So many snapshots and memories. Seve’s win at St Andrews in 1984, the last time there was a 54-hole cut. Paul Lawrie’s win at Carnoustie in 1999 – all the Five Live broadcast crew I was working with, bar Alan Green and me, headed off down the road to beat the traffic home, secure in the belief that Jean van de Velde was home and dry. I’ll never forget the squealing of tyres as everyone came roaring back into the press car park just in time to get out on the course and cover the four-hole play-off.
Tiger, in 2006, falling into the arms of Stevie Williams on the final green at Hoylake with all the pent-up emotion over the loss of his father a month or so earlier spilling out of him. Eight years later, on that same green, Rory McIlroy, hugged his Mum as they celebrated following in the footsteps of Fred Daly, the first Irishman to become the Champion Golfer of the Year on the self-same course 67 years earlier.
Two more memories: Carnoustie again, this time in 2007 and sitting beside the last green no more than 20 feet from Padraig Harrington as he played the most audacious skidding, spinning pitch shot to the hole after making a pig’s ear of the previous handful of shots. And finally, at Royal St George’s, standing with Darren Clarke’s parents behind the 18th green as they watched their son achieve his dream. His Mum couldn’t stop talking, his Dad was incapable of speech. All special, special moments.This Covid-19 has changed things for lots of us but perhaps it’s given us all the time to reflect on some of the things we’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy and perhaps have been at risk of taking for granted. No, it’s not going to be the usual Open fare but well done to all involved for this new initiative and for reminding us of great, great times.