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Amid What’s Wrong, The Open Has It Right

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, ENGLAND | Oh, woe is England. Pickpocketing and shoplifting are on the increase. “Shameful” – that’s what the headline said – civil servants planned to strike Heathrow Airport as Olympic Games traffic reached a peak. Soccer hero John Terry was accused of racism against an opponent – but what he was proved guilty of according to the trial transcript was rampant use of expletives (or **** in the dailies).
They just had the wettest June since records were instituted. Barclays bank was caught manipulating global interest rates. And the food, well, McDonald’s always is an alternative.
But oh, their golf tournament. Their Open. Their delightful, captivating, perplexing Open Championship, where the bunkers are deep – and plentiful, 206 this year at Royal Lytham and St Annes – the fairways are narrow and the game is played in the same no-nonsense manner it has been since the 1880s.
This was the 141st Open, the 11th at Royal Lytham, a place of history, not beauty, linksland among brick Victorian homes and the railroad line from Blackpool to Preston, instead of along the Irish Sea. It’s not much for aesthetics. The elegance derives from the stern challenge it provides.
Lancashire, Red Rose Country, the foe of York half a millennium past, glorified by Shakespeare in Richard III, which starts with the memorable line, “Now is the winter of our discontent.” Royal Lytham, unique among championship courses on either side of the Atlantic, starts with a par 3 as it always has started with a par 3.
If it was good enough for Bobby Jones and Bobby Locke, it was good enough for Adam Scott and Graeme McDowell. No bulldozers. No revising. No remodeling. No adding trees – trees on a links course? – or fluffing up the bunkers. No changing a 150-yard par 3 to a 200-yard par 3 as was the case with the eighth at San Francisco’s Olympic Club. Just stand back and let them tee it up.
And let them complain, which is what golfers always do.
The Open Championship, in effect, is man against nature. If a month of downpours made the rough at Lytham something in which it was difficult to find a ball much less to hit it – “almost unplayable,” was the Tiger Woods’ description early in the week for parts of the course – well, then, hit it on the fairway. Or on the green.
Arnold Palmer, bless him, made us understand what it is to play the Open. He showed up in 1960, at St. Andrews, when Americans looked at the weather and the miniscule purse and said, “No, thanks,” and came in second. Then the next year, ’61, in awful conditions at Royal Birkdale, not that far south of Royal Lytham, he won and made it imperative that if you were a reputable golfer you had to come across the Atlantic.
And the great ones have done just that. Arnie won two Opens. Jack Nicklaus three. Tiger Woods three. One day the rain falls. The next the sun shines. One day the air is still – Graeme McDowell, from Northern Ireland, said he couldn’t remember three rounds in an Open like the first three here – the next day your hat and ball are being blown every which way.
The Open is spectators so hardy and so enraptured with golf they sit in a storm and remain in the stands almost until darkness, in Britain in July, long after 9 p.m.
The Open is neighbors walking their dogs adjacent to the course. The Open is a champagne bar and a tented village. The Open is part of a wonderful few weeks in Britain, full of Wimbledon, the Grand Prix, the Henley Regatta – and this year running into the London Olympics.
The Open is players such as Brandt Snedeker dining in the same restaurants, Tiggis in St. Annes – the great columnist Lynn Truss of the Times of London wants to know what happened to the apostrophe – as the fans.
Tom Watson, as we have come to understand, loves the Open, and it was poetic justice that in this one, at age 62, he holed a 30-footer on the 36th hole to make the cut. Mark Calcavecchia, 52, also played 72 holes. In how many other majors does that happen, two of the senior set going all the way to Sunday?
What other major is a meteorologist such a prime factor? The R&A issues weather forecasts almost hourly, as if they were hurricane warnings in Florida. But as Tiger pointed out, “They’ve been wrong every day … We’re accustomed to playing in wind over here. It’s one of the things we actually expect to happen.”
But until the last day, it didn’t happen. Mother Nature, so much a part of the Open, always keeps us guessing. Which is perfect, because imperfection is what the Open is all about. As Nicklaus said once when a pro complained about bad bounces, “The more good shots you hit, the more good bounces you get.”
What we got again at the Open was a tournament, which proved, despite everything else in Great Britain, their golf championship is one of a kind. Fantastic.


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