When it comes to favorite
golf tournaments, put me down for the British Open.
Oh, the Masters is wonderful, too, especially the first time you go, when you’re
on sensory overload, soaking up every sight, every sound, every moment. But even Augusta National in the spring, with all the dogwoods, pines and
azaleas in full bloom, comes up No. 2
against the British Open in my book.
My other favorite tournament
of the year is the U.S. Amateur,
where you get to see tomorrow’s superstars today and you can’t take two steps
without stumbling over a great human interest story begging to be told.
Of course, the trip over the
British Open is not without its
difficulties.So I’ve come up with
a list of best and worst things about golf’s oldest championship.
The golf courses.The difference between
golf over here and golf over there cannot be overstated.
Whether you’re lucky enough
to play one of the exalted courses in the British
Openrota or some no-name loop on the outskirts
of town, it is a different kind of golf in every way.You will be called upon to hit golf shots we simply don’t
have to hit over here: say, the 100-yard bump and run over an insane series of
mounds, and the 80-yard putt from the fairway, come to mind
Leave your 60-degree wedge
at home, because you won’t hit it more than twice during a week of golf in the
U.K.They play a ground game, and
you learn to adapt pretty quickly.
On many courses, another
issue is the gorse, or heather, which is a benign-sounding name for shin-deep
wiry grass that is impossible to play out of – assuming you can find your
ball.Lay your bag down in that
stuff and you can lose your bag.Which is also why, if you aren’t straight off the tee, you are wise to leave
the driver in the bag in favor of a long iron or hybrid.
The weather cannot be
ignored.During the course of a single
round, it can go from sunny and calm, to windy and raining sideways, and back
again.Never a dull moment.
Change of scenery: If the golf courses are
different, so is everything else, starting with the surroundings.
British Opens tend to be played in small towns and villages far from the big cities. To
get there, you generally must fly into a big city, then drive through small,
ancient villages that are as innocent and picturesque as something out of Robin
Hood.Once you get off the
thoroughfares, the roads areextremely
narrow, having been built in the days before modern, wide-body cars.
Because of the constant rain
in the U.K, the fields and meadows you see from those roads are the richest hues
of green and yellow that will stick in your mind forever.
It is, in short, like going
back in time, to world you may never have known existed.
St. Andrews: Of all the British Open
venues, none compares to the Old Course
and no host city compares to St. Andrews,
the small, medieval city that is the original home of golf.
Although it is home to the University
of St. Andrews, the third-oldest
university in the English-speaking world, St.
Andrews is more like a small town, with only about 16,500 residents.
There’s a downtown
commercial district several blocks away, but the heart and soul of St. Andrews is a short walk from the Old Course, where golf shops, souvenir
shops, pubs and hotels abound.
If you walk off the back of
the 18th green, turn right and proceed about 100 yards up that
narrow street, you come to a busy corner with a major tourist-attraction golf
shop on one corner and a popular restaurant/pub on the other. During Open week, laughter and well-oiled golf fans spill out into the streets.
At the 2005 Open, I shared a house with three other
writers that abuts the 18th fairway. While most of our colleagues rented dorm rooms at the University of St. Andrews, we stumbled
across this house on the internet – a one minute walk to the golf course.
The fans: You can spend an
entire week at the British Open
and never once hear anybody yell, "Get in the hole!"
British Open golf fans tend
to be very knowledgeable, very well-behaved and, above all, very, very
proper.In the event of a good
shot, they offer up a polite round of applause.If it’s a fantastic shot,they ratchet up the enthusiasm a couple of clicks.
Golf fans over there also
make sure to bring along a sweater or pullover and an umbrella for the
inevitable afternoon shower and chill, although if the sun comes out, they
slather on sunscreen so thick they look like Casper the friendly ghost.
The newspapers: Newspapers in the
U.K. are much more lively and fun to read than their serious and often bland
counterparts in the U.S.
There are a couple of earnest
and subdued papers – namely, the Times
of London and the Guardian – but most are tabloids that scream at you
from the newsstand with headlines that cannot be ignored. In the U.K.,
newspapers are more in the entertainment business than the news business.
The flight over: Most flights to the U.K. leave Philadelphia in the early evening, fly
all night (8 hours) and arrive about 8 a.m., just in time for rush hour in
If you can sleep on the
plane, you’re fine.If you cannot,
and I cannot, you arrive stiff, cramped and exhausted, just as a new day is dawning.
on the left side is not something you do without training and practice, except
for when it is.
In 1998, when I was headed
to my first British Open, I was
concerned about the 45-mile drive from the airport in Manchester, England to
Southport, home of Royal Birkdale.
One of my golf writer
buddies who I was sharing a house with told me not to worry.He was a veteran of several British Opens and of driving on the
left.He’d rent a car for the week
and I could ride shotgun.
Sounded like a plan, until
we were standing in the Hertz office
at the Manchester airport and my buddy discovered he had managed to leave his
driver’s license back home in New Jersey.Hertz would rent him a car,
but he was not allowed to drive.
"No problem," he said,
handing me the keys.
Ten minutes later, I was behind
the wheel, merging into morning rush-hour traffic on Manchester’s equivalent of
the Schuylkill Expressway.
By the end of the week, I
was an old pro, weaving in and out of traffic, whizzing around narrow, country
roads, negotiating round-abouts like a New York cabbie.
Smoking everywhere: The anti-smoking craze that swept across America
years ago has yet to reach the shores of the U.K. Restaurants, bars, media centers,
they’re all full of smoke.
The food: All
the snarky clichés you hear about how lousy the food is in the U.K. –
true, all true.
So much of cuisine is
inexplicably bland and borderline inedible, which is surprising considering we’re
talking about such an ancient and cultured part of the world.
Try starting the day with
the "Full English" breakfast (eggs, fatty bacon, fried bread and baked beans, or Bangers and Mash (fatty
sausage and mashed potatoes) or Shepherd’s Pie (minced lamb,
veggies and mashed potatoes).
While in Scotland, be sure
not to miss the haggis
(don’t even ask).
Thing is, even when it is a
food or dish you recognize and like back home, they have a way of preparing it
in the most unappetizing way.Even
the pizza joints and Chinese "take-away" places don’t measure up.
One of the favorite meals
over there – sort of their answer to a burger and fries – is fish
and chips, or fried fish and fries.Not a bad concept, except they have a way of making the fish and the
chips so limp and greasy as to be revolting.
One year, one of the guys I
was sharing a house with, left a half-eaten order of fish and chips in a paper
bag on the dining room table.The
next morning, the grease had leeched out of the bag and eaten through the
varnish on the table.
The good news is, I always
counted on the British Open to help
me lose five pounds.
The prices: Depending
on the exchange rate between the U.S.
dollar and the British pound,
figure on everything costing 50- to 100-percent more than back home.
Hotels, restaurants, car
rentals, soft drinks in a convenience store, a round of golf, everything is
expensive.You can drive yourself
nuts pinching pennies, or you can grin and bear it.
Still, minor annoyances
aside, the British Open is the best
tournament in golf.
The course, owned and
operated by Glen Mills School, the
oldest reform school in America, is profiled in a seven-minute segment on the weekly
in America, to air at 9 p.m., Tuesday, July 13.
Correspondent Jim Axelrod reports the piece, which
introduces viewers to the Bobby Weed-designed
course and explains how Glen Mills
students work on the maintenance staff, at bag drop, and in the pro shop.
In addition to a couple of
students, Glen Mills executive
director Gary Ipock and board member
Ron Pilot, who is the father and
patron saint of the golf course, are interviewed.
When Tiger Woods returned to golf in April at the Masters, we all braced for the inevitable onslaught of very awkward
questions over the mess he made of his life.
For the most part, he didn’t
get those questions.The reason is
Augusta National Golf Club, and the PGA Tour at tournaments since then, denied
credentials to the likes of the National
Enquirer, TMZ, Radar, Star magazine and the rest of
the tabloid media.
What was left, of course,
were the golf writers he had faced for years in better times, on better
terms.For the most part, they had
neither the interest nor the stomach to do the bidding of the tabloids.
Still, so as not to be
accused of giving Tiger a free pass,
the golf writers poked around the edges of Tiger’s
sexcapade, eliciting more apologies and professions of remorse.Satisfied, the golf media has since largely
moved on, as witnesses by last week’s press conference at the AT&T National at Aronmink during which Tiger allowed as how he is relieved
that questions are finally getting back to the state of his golf game again.
But now comes next week’s British Open.
face a very different media in the UK.Except for The Times
of London, and maybe the Guardian,
every paper over there is a tabloid, and they compete on a daily basis to see
who can be the raciest.It is not
by happenstance that the supermarket tabloids in the U.S. have traditionally
been edited by imports from the UK.
It all makes for great
entertainment, but the UK tabloids not averse to a little exaggeration.One of the first times I ever saw the
UK tabloids in action was during the 2002 Ryder
Cup, at The Belfrey, in England.
During one of the U.S. team’s
early-week press conferences, a UK tabloid writer asked Tiger about his practice schedule.Specifically, where did he get off practicing shortly
after sunup, as is his customer, and being off the course by the time many fans
are just arriving?
Slightly taken aback, Tiger’s response was, well, if anyone
wanted to what him practice, come out early.
I was stunned to see the
next morning’s banner headlines in the tabloids, which essentially accused Tiger of being arrogant, of hiding from
fans, of thumbing his nose them, especially little kids.
That is the media environment
Tiger is walking into at the British Open.The tabloids are the
mainstream media over there.Tiger will not be shielded.
We got a taste of it a day
ago, during a pro-am in Ireland, when a UK reporter asked Tiger point-blank if his infidelities were worth the loss of his
marriage, millions in endorsements and the respect of fans around the globe?
squirmed a little, but kept his composure.The AP account of the moment described Tiger was "curt and dismissive" and "icily firm."Having watched video of the exchange, I
didn’t think he was either.
I say that not in defense of
Tiger. What got him into his
situation is indefensible, and he continues to pay a huge price for his
All I’m saying is, next
week, at the Old Course in Scotland,
get ready for Tiger to face the media
grilling he hasn’t yet gotten in the U.S.
It would be impossible to
come away from the week of the AT&T
National at Aronimink GC and not consider it an unqualified
From the golf course, which
as drawn high praise
from the players, to the fan support (45,000-plus Friday and Saturday, 36,000
Sunday, 192,633 for the week), to Aronimink’s ability to host a modern, big-time tournament,
it has all been good.
Even the weather cooperated,
which it did not the last time Aronimink hosted a major, the 2003 Senior PGA Championship,
when it rained virtually all week.
It is no secret that even before
the AT&T came off well, Aronimink had
designs on bigger fish: namely, another major to follow up on its 1962 PGA Championship. Aroniminkpresident
David Boucher acknowledged Sunday
that the club has indeed put out feelers to the PGA of America and in conversations about a future event.
"The very early stages," Boucher said of the conversations.
Assuming the PGA of America is as enthusiastic about
how the AT&T came off, the first
available open date for a PGA Championship
is 2017.The first open date for a
Ryder Cup, which is also run by the PGA of America, in the U.S. is even
further out, in 2024.
A bid for a U.S. Open at Aronimink is not completely out
of the question, although it is less likely than a PGA Championship.The Open is coming to Merion GC in 2013, of course, and another Open wouldn’t likely return to the area for at least 10 years, or
Beyond that, U.S. Golf Association officials have
acknowledged privately that when they think of Philadelphia, they think of Merion.It has, of course, hosted more Opens (four) and more USGA championships
than any other club in the country.
In addition, clubs tend to
gravitate toward one or the other, the PGA
of America or the USGA.Merion
is clearly in the USGA camp,
has more of a history with the PGA.
One other possibility for Aronimink could
be a Presidents Cup, which is run by
the PGA Tour, as is the AT&T National.Like the Ryder Cup, the Presidents
Cup is played every other year and rotates between U.S. and International
venues. The next available date for a Presidents
Cup in the U.S. is 2017, like next available date for a PGA Championship.
After a 70 on Saturday that gained
no him no ground in the AT&T
National, Tiger Woods stepped to
the microphone for his usual post-round debriefing.
Still grinding out there?
"Always," said Tiger."Always."
didn’t look happy, and why would he?He didn’t look happy on Friday, either, when he also shot even par 70
and said more or less the same thing.
For Philadelphia golf fans
getting their first up-close look at Tiger
this week at Aronimink,
the bummer is that he is out of contention – a non-factor in the
tournament -- and he will be streaking home on his private jet before leader Justin Rose tees off, let alone
Obviously, this is not fans,
tournament organizers nor the PGA Tour
want, certainly not for the long term.The current state of affairs calls to mind the old salt: "As goes General Motors, so goes the nation."
How about, "As goes Tiger Woods, so
These are not good times for
Tiger, in his personal life or in
his golf game. The possibility that nobody wants to ponder is, what if this is
the new reality, the new normal?
What if Tiger’s best golf is behind him and that he will never again
achieve the kind of dominance and success that made him a global icon?
We still see flashes of the
old Tiger, like that third-round 66
at the U.S. Open that got everybody
excited over the possibility of a major charge on Sunday.Didn’t happen.He fizzled.It was hard to tell who was more disappointed, him or golf
As the huge and enthusiastic
crowds following Tiger at Aronimink have
demonstrated, the worst of his personal problems are in the rearview mirror and
fans seem willing to forgive and forget.
What they want, and what
golf needs, is the old Tiger back.
For as long as Tiger has been on the scene, what wowed
fans the most was his awesome power.Up close, his tee shots sound different.The ball flight looks different,
But while his power game is what
drew all the oohs and aahs,
it was his putter that really won tournaments and made him the No. 1 player in
Remember a few years ago,
when the standard line in trying to describe Tiger was often, "He’s is like Nicklaus,
only with a better short game."
No question, Tiger was the No. 1 putter in the
world.Ask any player on the PGA
Tour who they’d want to putt a 6-footer to save their life and the answer was
It wasn’t so much that he
sank long putts, although he sank more than his share of them; it was that he
almost never missed a putt from 10 feet, and he literally didn’t miss anything
from inside 5 feet.The more the
putt mattered, the more certain Tiger
was to make it. (See U.S. Open, Torrey
But lately, Tiger isn’t making all those putts.He missed a baker’s half-dozen makeable
putts during his first round at Aronimink, none more telling that the 5-footer for birdie at
the 18th , which followed a 329-yard blast off the tee and a perfect
little half-wedge. He needed that
put to get him into better position for Friday, yet he lipped it out.
I was standing 20 feet away,
with a good look at the line, and it wasn’t a tricky putt – not for me,
let alone Tiger.More to the point, It was exactly the
kind of putt he used to bury 99½ times out of 100.
If you watched the
highlights on the Golf Channel, it surely
wasn’t the only formerly sure-thing putt Tiger
missed during his first round.Same thing at the U.S. Open
at Pebble Beach, and the Memorial before that, and...
None of this is news to Tiger."I putted awful," he said after his round Thursday.You can say that again.
If Tiger is going to get his mojo back, the
putter is the key.
If Tiger Woods’ image is at a rock bottom, you wouldn’t know it from
the reception he is getting at the AT&T
National at Aronimink GC.
Not only did Tiger have the largest following during
Wednesday’s pro-am, around the golf course he was greeted with applause and
pre-scandal respect and awe.No
catcalls, no hoots or hollers, no thumbs-down, no embarrassing banners being towed
overhead behind airplanes.
It almost feels like Tiger is still the host of the
tournament, despite the fact that he was famously dumped by communications
giant AT&T at the wake of his
personal life meltdown and his name was scrubbed from the tournament.
On Tuesday, Tiger was ushered into the media center
for his pre-tournament press conference, which felt no less official than when did
them as the host of the three previous AT&T
Nationals at Congressional CC in
And late yesterday morning, Tiger was seated front and center at
the tournament’s opening ceremonies on the back lawn behind Aronimink GC’s ornate clubhouse.He was right there with PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem and rocker Jon Bon Jovi.
So confusing is his role
here this week that earlier today CBS
Sports, which willbroadcast
the tournament Saturday and Sunday, issued a press release headlined:
WOODS HOSTS AND AIMS TO DEFEND TITLE IN "AT&T NATIONAL" ON
JULY WEEKEND, JULY 3-4 ON CBS SPORTS
Minutes later the network
sent out a corrective press release:
PLEASE NOTE PREVIOUS RELEASE ...."TIGER WOODS HOSTS AND AIMS
TO DEFEND TITLE AT AT&T NATIONAL" .....
TIGER IS DEFENDING TITLE, NOT HOSTING
Of course, whether Tiger is hosting or defending doesn’t
seem to much matter to golf fans.All they seem to care about is that they’re finally getting to see the
No. 1 golfer in the flesh.