Phew! What a week. Where do I start?
The 151st Open Championship is now in the rear-view mirror and, as is the way with these things, it was a disappointment for many but a triumph for a few – particularly Brian Harman, the diminutive left-hander from Georgia, who was announced as the Champion Golfer of the Year last Sunday.Life-enhancing as it certainly is for Harman, it is a week that is potentially life changing for Matthew Jordan, the Royal Liverpool golf club member who qualified at the nearby West Lancs course. He then went on to hit the opening drive of the Championship and finished in a dizzying tie for tenth place which guarantees him a tee time at Royal Troon next year. His bank balance has had a cool $308,000 added to it and his world ranking has jumped from 329th to 203rd. Now that’s what I call a good week. Alex Fitzpatrick, younger brother of last year’s US Open champion Matt, was another who came through qualifying and on this occasion overshadowed his more famous sibling. Alex was out playing the course and doing his prep the Thursday before the Open when I was up having a look at the course myself. That paid dividends for him and as a newly-minted professional of a mere twelve months his share of 17th place and cheque for a smidgeon under $188,000 is a confidence booster par excellence. A financial cushion of that size eases all manner of pressures and anxieties and is so freeing for the player. Expect to see more of him in the future.
The course was magnificently prepared by James Bledge, the Links Manager, and his crew. One of the bones of contention, which got plenty of air time, was the preparation of the bunkers, which were raked so that the bases were flat and the walls perpendicular. When Mo Richmond and I walked the course together, we had plenty of opportunity to get a close-up view of these monsters. There were even a couple on the left of the 9th where the back lip was overhanging the sand.
I thought they were tricked up, overstepped the mark and were, quite frankly, not golf. Not even the world’s best can make a ball move vertically upwards and then forwards, so belated kudos to the R&A for amending the raking to ensure a small slope to the height of the first rivet – not that they should have got the set-up wrong in the first place.
If you think the pros are too pampered and want everything manicured to the nth degree (which they probably do), why not keep the penalising quality and difficulty of sand play by reintroducing rakes with wide gaps between the teeth? Jack Nicklaus did this at his Memorial tournament but the outcry from the players was such that even the great man bowed to the pressure. What a pity. Two wrongs don’t make a right, however, and vertical faces are most definitely not the answer.
My billet for the week was in a house just over the fence from the 7th green and on the days I had a later start I could waken in the morning and hear the applause from the nearby galleries. Being able to walk to the course was the perfect way to beat the traffic. Second best was arriving by bike, which legions of spectators did, and there was an enormous secure bike park provided over near the practice range. Some did prefer to try and park a little closer, however.
And for those who didn’t have tickets the mesh fence separating the 4th green from the pavement outside the course proved irresistible.
My brief this week was to be a contributing member of the Open Radio broadcast team under the able stewardship of Steve Tebbs. On air for virtually every shot of the Championship it was a huge effort from a very talented team and my debut with them was fun and enjoyable from start to finish. Hopefully, the great mix of voices and characters provided a good listen and it was a pleasant change to walk the fairways with someone even taller than me. Thanks to Rob Dinwiddie (picture at top) for being such a good companion.
I was only sorry that socialising was on short ration for me yet again this week but it’s another major in the books and huge thanks to all the team, as well as my Sirius XM colleagues, for looking after me so well.
By my reckoning that’s the 29th Open I’ve attended and the 23rd one at which I’ve worked. Each and every one has been different and has had its own high points and memorable moments. I don’t think you’d be surprised at which is my all-time favourite: think Royal Portrush, 2019 and Shane.
But my favourite thing of all is the moment a new champion lifts that claret jug and realises all the hard work and sacrifice have paid off.
It’s a joy to witness.