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This has been a tiring and emotional week and some of us – not just Rory – are on our knees before the Open’s even got into the second day.  In the run-up to the championship, the first at Portrush for 68 years, in case you’d missed that hiatus, a friend said she hadn’t felt this excited about anything since waiting for Christmas as a child.  So, really, most of us can hardly breathe.

We’re reduced to a one-word answer whenever anyone asks us anything about Open week:  “Unbelievable.”  It’s about all that even the most imaginative and garrulous can come up with.  There’s a lot of head shaking; and an awful lot of smiling inanely.  Is it really happening?  Or are we dreaming?

Well, the dreaming has been done and turned into a reality.  The biggest show in golf really is here.

Even those of us allergic to mornings were willing to make an early start to be part of golfing history.  Darren Clarke, James Sugrue and Charley Hoffman prepare for lift-off.

We got up at 0500 hours to drive to the course, tramp through a muddy car park, queue at security, fretting that we’d be held up too long to make it to the 1st tee in time to watch Darren Clarke, champion golfer of the year in 2011, hit the opening shot at 0635.  He, being the showman that he is, started proceedings with a birdie 3, responding to the audience drawn by the sense of occasion and the desire to be part of history.  The usual handful of R&A early risers and photographers were joined by a standful of people and a long line of fans streaming up the hill towards the green.

Being a golf spectator is not for the faint-hearted and the Dunluce course at Royal Portrush is a workout of epic proportions.  I used to play here a lot but had forgotten just how undulating it is and had to admit wheezingly to myself that my fitness levels are not what they were – or should be.  The two new holes – the 7th and 8th – also played havoc with my sense of where I was (never reliable at the best of times), though you would think that even the mathematically challenged could cope with adding two onto a number…..

Rory on the last hole in practice.  Sadly, things didn’t go the way he wanted once the championship started.

There was a brisk enough breeze – Dad wouldn’t even have rated it a zephyr – and some skiffs of rain to keep the players honest and the course showed itself to be every inch the championship test worthy of The Open.  How I ever managed to get round it, even from the forward tees, heaven only knows.  Perhaps I was a demon chipper and putter in those days……

Sitting in the stand at the 18th (which used to be the 16th and was where Maureen lost an Irish final against the mighty Mary McKenna many moons ago), waiting for Darren and co to finish, I thought of Mum and Dad; Zara Bolton, Dorothy Glendinning and all the people who helped and encouraged us juniors; Stevie and his Golf Foundation classes; Max Faulkner, who won the Open here in 1951 and signed my precious programme, shakily, when in his 80s.

I was tired and I was emotional but it was a precious, special moment and Darren recognised it when he raised his putter and turned full circle, saluting us all.

Darren on the 18th at the end of a round on a special day that meant a lot to all of us golf tragics in this part of the world.

For many of us, this is a week for enjoying the company of friends from all over the world and every corner of Ireland, for going with the flow, ripping up the timetable and watching the golf that appeals most without the tyranny of deadlines and meticulous research.  Maureen may have opted for a work-free major but she hasn’t neglected the blog and has done a tip which will appear as soon as I can work out why it’s decided to be uncooperative and make itself unavailable.  Normal service will resume as soon as possible.

The photo stream is undiluted, however and I can’t resist sharing some of my favourite snaps.  The montage of the AGW (Association of Golf Writers) dinner was put together by Mary McKenna, who is as talented a photographer as she was a golfer.  I hasten to add that she is not responsible for the photos, they’re all my own work and all the flaws are mine.

Awards galore at the AGW dinner. In the main pic, the ever-accommodating Graeme McDowell shows off his Arnold Palmer Open Award while Lilian Starrett shows off the Claret Jug.  Elsewhere the eagle-eyed will spot Wilma Erskine, the legendary secretary-manager of Royal Portrush, with the Michael Williams Trophy for Outstanding Services to Golf; Francesco Molinari with the Golf Writers’ Trophy; AGW chairman Martin Dempster; the R&A’s Clive Brown and Angela Howe; Kath Stewart-Moore; and master photographer Dave Cannon, who had nothing to do with any of these snaps.

There are those who may accuse me of family bias for using the following photograph but it’s a tribute to those brave souls at Portstewart Golf Club who continue to work closely with our cousin John Breadon and to all the unsuspecting spectators subjected to his marshalling on the 1st hole.  John (right) is kept up to scratch by long-suffering son Patrick……

Knowing the ropes.

 

 

Finally, it’s always good to promote a good cause, especially one that features a five-time Open champion and a decent pic of the White Rocks with Dunluce Castle just visible in the background.  This year the Open Water initiative is tackling the problem of single-use plastic water bottles by encouraging people to use stainless steel bottles and refill them at water stations around the course.  At a conservative estimate that’ll be 120,000 bottles saved.  All we have to do is remember to keep our reusable bottles with us.  The Open ones are a snip at £4.50 but other bottles are allowed in…..

Anders Jacobsen (left), Tom Watson and Martin Slumbers tackling the plastic problem, a project supported by UN Environment’s Clean Seas campaign [The R&A]

 

 

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