Aren’t we lucky, someone said, at our age, to have something we love so much, something we feel so passionate about, something that engages us still? It was the Friday evening of Open week and we were back home watching the telly, cheering on Rory as he put his heart and soul into trying to make the cut. Well, we weren’t merely cheering, we were roaring, screeching, straining every sinew to will every putt into the hole. He fell just short but we – and the thousands who’d stayed out late on the course – cheered him to the echo and felt very proud of him.
It’s probably not too much of an exaggeration to say that he jetted off to Memphis a changed man.
And it left the stage clear for Shane, described somewhere as a relative unknown. Really? Only by someone who hadn’t been paying much attention, surely? I rather fancied Shane to do well because he was in good form, had won at Portrush and knew how to handle the links, whatever the weather. Luckily for him, I put no money on him – players carrying my cash invariably crash and burn – and he produced the performance of his life to win his first major title, to win THE major title.
It was a fantastic week from start to finish and one of the best things was staying with a friend who had filled her house with fellow golf tragics. We couldn’t have had a better time, getting over the surreal experience of driving to a course we’d known all our lives and realising that we were going to The Open……Can you believe it? Is this really happening? We weren’t exactly blasé by the end of the week but we’d got used to the idea and Portrush and The Open seemed like a natural fit, a match made in heaven.We had such fun that I’ve made a mental note not to watch Tottenham’s next Champions League final at the Horse and Jockey, one of the world’s great hostelries – where Spurs fans are thin on the ground and no one much cared who won in Madrid – but to round up the diehards who will understand why I was ecstatic to spot Pat Jennings, a keen golfer, making his way to the 17th green at Portrush last Saturday. Neutrals and objective observers need not apply. I was too slow to grab a happy snap of the sainted Pat but beamed all the way home. It was that sort of week.
We made lots of good decisions during the week – it was hard to make a bad call – and one of the main ones was being at the 1st tee for the opening shot; the other was staying until the death on Sunday, whatever the weather. As we were leaving the car in an already sodden car park (not too far from the entrance because we’d gone in late, pacing ourselves in the manner of ageing fairway trampers), I heard a man say to his wife: “We can always leave and watch it at home on television.”
I hope they stayed. The atmosphere was indescribable (as was some of the weather) and had to be experienced to be believed. It was electric.
Mind you, it was best to be well prepared, following the old adage that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothing. My ancient Four Seasons raincoat, purchased in Edinburgh many years ago and a veteran of many a Ryder Cup (starting at Celtic Manor) and Open (it saw Darren win at Royal St George’s) worked wonders again as I sat behind the 7th green in monsoon conditions. By then everyone was in survival mode and there would be no charging challengers to upset the Lowry equilibrium. It wasn’t that sort of day. Just as the gales at St George’s were right up Darren’s fairway, so Shane, ably aided and abetted by caddie Brian ‘Bo’ Martin from Ardglass, was unfazed by the foul weather.
Sitting on my borrowed three-legged stool, with a sou’wester over my waterproof beanie as the rain hammered down, I was beaming. What could be better? Perfect day for Shane. Where else would I rather be? Nowhere. Nowhere at all. I snatched a few snaps but then panicked because I’d borrowed a friend’s phone and as the water bounced off the screen, I realised that she wouldn’t be happy if it succumbed to water damage, even if it was at the hands of an expert in such matters.
As the hordes, including Maureen and Brian, splashed off after Shane and Tommy Fleetwood, I joined two visitors from Canada who were sheltering behind the scoreboard at the back of the green. They were playing Portstewart the next day, for the first time, so I assured them that, providing they could see it, the view from the 1st tee was a match for anywhere in the world.
When the rain abated, I shook myself off and stood like a cormorant, wings out, trying to get rid of some of the excess water as seagulls blew in and out, scavenging for spectators’ scraps. I made my way up the hill to Calamity, to the viewing platform at the tee of one of the world’s most fearsome par 3s, where I wedged myself in comfortably to await the denouement. Most players underestimated the strength of the wind and some, like Matt Kuchar, had to abseil down nearly to the practice ground to play their 2nd shots. Kuchar had, in fact, hit a provisional ball safely left of the chasm and waved at the marshals to abandon their search. Too late, too late; they’d found his ball and he had to play it. I think he managed a 5.
I couldn’t quite see Shane hole his birdie putt at the adjacent 15th green – even the periscope couldn’t help because I didn’t dare leave my position with its prime view of the 16th tee – but I heard the roar and joined in. When the man from Offaly hit a no-nonsense tee shot to the front of the green, it was all over bar the shouting – and the singing – and the shouting – and the singing…..And the smiling. All ad infinitum.
Footnote: Sorry for leaving the three-legged stool at Calamity, Kath. I think it died happy…..