What on earth to write about this week? Just what is going on in the world of golf that’s of the remotest interest to anyone?
Of course, there are loads of people who have no notion whatsoever about golf – they’re into music, football (not the English obviously), theatre, art, history, tennis, politics, antiques, wine, whatever but don’t have a clue that this is Open Championship week, one of the sporting wonders of the world.
I’d regard it as more of a general knowledge thing than a specialist interest thing to know a bit about the Open but perhaps I’m just biased. Or perhaps it’s just that a lot of the golfing people I know are experts- or at the very least very knowledgeable – in other fields, with wide-ranging areas of expertise. Mind you, I did once mention James Thurber to another man, a bit of a golfer, who was also from Columbus, Ohio and was met with a blank look. That was one of my proudest moments, introducing one genius from Ohio to another.
If you haven’t heard of Thurber, please look him up and read some of his stuff. It’s more than worth the effort. If you don’t laugh, I won’t give you your money back, I’ll just give you a very wide berth….
The Open is back at Royal St George’s in Kent, on the outer edges of England – as some wag said the easiest way to get there is from France – and it’s led to a lot of reminiscing. Hard and all as it is for most of us to get there, Royal St G is (like Thurber) well worth the effort. It’s too hard a course for me but I’ve had some memorable times there – and even the odd par. The weather looks set fair this week but the Sunday that Darren Clarke won his Open, in 2011, the last time it was there, it was Baltic. I know I’m not exaggerating because I was there!
There was a huge stand behind the 6th tee (a short hole) and you also had a good view of the 5th green and a large part of the 7th, especially if you’d worked your way to the top of the stand, as I had. The wind was howling, it was bitterly cold, even wet at times and I was wearing every item of clothing that I possessed, including a long, thankfully waterproof coat. I was nearly frozen by the time the leaders came through – and had seen some woeful efforts to combat the wind from players blown to blazes by the conditions.
Darren was different. He was in his element. It really was his time. He stood on the 6th tee, selected his club with the minimum of fuss and arrowed his tee shot through the gale (well, it was certainly several notches up from a breeze) in to the heart of the green. No drama. I was also there when Dustin Johnson, a serious threat, launched his second shot at the 14th miles out of bounds and gave Darren the breathing space he needed to win the title.
My plan had been to leave early to miss the traffic and watch the last knockings on the telly but when it became apparent that Darren might just do it, was not going to blow it, I couldn’t leave. I stayed to see him lay his hands on the oldest jug of all.
In the days, not so distant, when RSG didn’t countenance the idea of women as members (though they could play the course, as near-invisible beings), the Curtis Cup was held there in 1988. Linda Bayman, one of the near invisibles (hard to imagine, I know, for those of us who know her….), with a home just behind the 4th green, made her Cup debut at the age of 40 (her birthday was that week) and among other things holed some sort of monstrous, beyond outrageous putt at the 18th to win one of her matches. Or perhaps it was for a half….The details have blurred and the reference books are elsewhere but whatever, it was bloody marvellous!
Of course, Sandy Lyle won the Open there in 1985 and I could find the relevant magazines easily because I’d rooted them out for last year. The championship then went the way of the pandemic and I hadn’t got around to tidying them away, despite lockdowns and that sort of thing. Suppose Zoom bridge, virtual singing (no truer description of my caterwauling; the prospect of returning to real, live choir is scaring the life out of me) and endless electronic catch-ups with friends here, there and everywhere kept me from tidying up properly.
Who knows what trials and tribulations await over the next few days. Will the favourites prevail or fail? Will a rank outsider sneak up on the rail? There’ll be heartbreak and hard luck stories but even for the men who let the title slip from their grasp, who’ve done something unimaginably daft in the heat of the moment, there will be, all being well, successes and triumphs to come. But not necessarily a Claret Jug. Life isn’t always that neat.Finally, congratulations to Lewine Mair, who has just been elected president of the AGW (Association of Golf Writers), founded in 1938, the first woman to hold the post. About bloody time!