SANDWICH, ENGLAND | To the British, the Open Championship, that exercise in broken umbrellas and broken dreams – for verification, see Donald, Luke and Westwood, Lee – is less a golf tournament than a national treasure to be protected at all costs from Americans.
We are, as George Bernard Shaw pointed out, two nations separated by a common language. More than that, we are kept apart by different sporting philosophies.
In the U.S., it’s Us vs. Us, as in Yankees vs. Red Sox, or Tiger (remember him?) vs. Phil. Over here, it’s always Us vs. Them, meaning the baddies who carry U.S. passports.
This is not to say the Brits, as a group, are without admirable qualities. They queue forever in a downpour, as they did at Royal St. George’s, merely to board shuttle buses. They dine on items such as meat pie and bangers and mash. They still read newspapers, a lost art in America.
Yet, when those two favorite sons, Donald (yes, English, although a grad of Northwestern University and resident of the Chicago area) and Westwood, respectively first and second in the world rankings, missed the cut, it was interpreted by one writer as a blow to the United States.
“Perhaps the rigour demanded by the 140th Open Championship is to be welcomed,” we were advised by Kevin Garside, a clever chap, in the Daily Telegraph. “A robust antidote to the birdie fests served up routinely by parkland America.”
The Open, as you are aware, is held only at courses on linksland, those rolling, grass-covered dunes along the sea where golf was invented by shepherds up in Scotland, probably because they got bored by the programming on the BBC.
It’s golf played more on the ground than in the air, with a lot of crazy bounces and as noted from the first couple days of this 140th Open, crazy leaders. Or were you thinking Thomas Bjorn and Darren Clarke would be atop the field this week?
Royal St. George’s is famous for a bunker on the fourth hole, named “Himalaya,” big enough to hide Rupert Murdoch’s embarrassment, and, some 90 miles from London, for being the most southerly of courses on the Open rota.
There’s a quote attributed to Jack Nicklaus, “The Open venues get worse the farther south you go.” Whether Jack, who shot 81 the first round of the Open in 1981 at St. George’s, actually said that is problematical. But if there were a course below this one, it would be in France, 22 miles away.
Sandwich, the town bordering St. George’s, has nothing to do with Subway or your local delicatessen. The name comes from the Old English, Sandwic, which means “sand village,” or “Place on the Sand.” The Old English “wic,” translated from the Latin vicus, means hamlet, but not the Prince of Denmark. Where’s Shakespeare when we need him?
From the Bard we go to The Beard. That’s not San Francisco Giants relief pitcher Brian Wilson who, having dyed facial hair jet black looks like one of the old cough drop cover boys, the Smith Brothers, rather Lucas Glover.
The remarkable Spaniard, Miguel Angel Jimenez, 47, he of the pot belly, cigar and ponytail, also has chin whiskers. Glover has the full beard. He started it because he was bored last winter, then decided not to shave. The talk was the last person with a full beard to win an Open was Tom Morris, but in truth it was Bob Ferguson in 1882 at St. Andrews.
“We have become used to unknown Americans creeping in unannounced to win the Open,” was the observation in the Daily Telegraph, “but Lucas Glover may be the first raider to come apparently in disguise.”
Unknown? Disguise? Disguised as what, the 2009 U.S. Open champion? Which is what he is, with or without camouflage. Record that!
The first recorded mention of Sandwich, the burg, was around 640 A.D., which means it is older than Tom Watson, who once again this year, at age 61, had another brilliant showing in the Open, making both a hole-in-one (on the sixth in the second round) and making the cut. Something Donald, Westwood, Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell, PGA Tour money leader Nick Watney and Matt Kuchar could not.
Day Two was beautiful, from a weather standpoint, but not for the likes of McDowell, (who won the 2010 U.S. Open at one those easy American courses, Pebble Beach). “I’m a basket case,” McDowell said, after shooting 68-77 to miss the cut.
Phil Mickelson, for one, wanted rain and wind. Day Three, he got them. “I’m looking forward to actually playing in the bad weather,” said Phil. Maybe because for only the second time in the 18 Opens he entered, Mickelson was actually playing good golf.
Watson, who won the tournament five times, starting in 1975, seems always to play good golf in the Open.
“The challenge is dealing with conditions on a course like this,” he said. “You know, it’s fun. This is a game.”
Someone asked Watson about the ovation from the fans. “Pretty muffled,” Watson explained. “People had their hands on their umbrellas and in their gloves.”
In England, that’s not illegal use of hands.