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‘Ye Here For The Golf?’

GULLANE, SCOTLAND | Aye, laddie, Scotland, where Bobby Burns gave us “Auld Acquaintance” and Tom Morris gave us the elements, where golf is as much a part of the country as the heather and gorse. The Open Championship last week came back to Scotland, where it was born many lifetimes and tee shots ago, and if there wasn’t magic in the air, there was sunshine. Which is about the same. Scotland, where the game originated. Scotland, land of kings and kilts, whins and whisky. Scotland where the summer days seem to go on forever. Such a proud people, the Scots, whose inventions include penicillin and the steam engine, who gain little credit and they claim not enough representation from that nation immediately to the south, England. The Scots love their sport. “Ye here for the golf?” one asks a visitor. Of course. The golf. The Open. The history. “You think if Andy Murray were English,” a Scottish friend said of the United Kingdom’s first men’s Wimbledon champ in 77 years, “the London papers would have called him a Brit?” No answer is required. He’s their man, Murray, from Dunblane, across the Firth of Forth from Muirfield, just the way golf is their game. They gave it to the world, and for the 142nd Open the world, Americans, South Africans, Australians, Swedes, came to Scotland to seek the oldest of trophies, the Claret Jug. The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, which drew up the game’s first rules, in 1744, before the United States came into existence, is located at Muirfield. “Scots wha hae,” it’s the national song, lyrics by Burns. “Scots Who Have,” is the awkward translation. “Who have” with Wallace bled, alluding to the man eventually known as “Braveheart,” in the wars of the 13th century. Patriotism is always in fashion here. The talk is of separatism, of government independent of Great Britain, which wouldn’t be so great if Scotland seceded. But that’s all speculation. Once this Open started, we didn’t have to speculate. We knew from the leaderboards it would be a great one, as each at Muirfield has been. Does a course make the players, or do the players make the course? Ernie Els won the Open at Muirfield, Nick Faldo – twice. Tom Watson, Lee Trevino, Gary Player, Henry Cotton. Hall of Famers succeeding on a Hall of Fame course, a club without a pro shop or as the properly vocal critics point out, without women members. Controversy, arguments. A line of defense from Peter Dawson, chief executive of the Royal & Ancient, you’d never hear in the States. “But on the Saturday morning when the guy gets up or the lady gets up and out of the marital bed, if you like,” was a Dawson comment, “and goes off and plays golf with his chums … ” On the Saturday morning of the Open, it was Miguel Ángel Jiménez, the Spaniard with the pot belly, ponytail and cigar; and Tiger Woods, Lee Westwood and Henrik Stenson playing golf, not so much with their chums but their rivals, battling the wheat field rough, the massive bunkers and greens that, unlike the rest of the course, actually were green. If impossible to putt. At the Open, the best compete not merely against their peers but against the past. The ghosts of Hogan and Hagen hover. The accomplishments of Nicklaus and Norman linger. It wasn’t just Westwood against Tiger, or Miguel, it was Westwood against Arnie and Jack. Against Tommy Armour and Bobby Jones. Arnold Palmer crossed the Atlantic in the early 1960s because he was a golfer who relished a challenge and because it was the proper thing to do.


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