SOUTHPORT, ENGLAND | He opened with an 8, he finished with an 81 and still he came in smiling. The 60-year-old Mark O’Meara did not need too much in the way of consolation at the end of the morning, the reason being that he had had his name etched on the Claret Jug back in 1998.
Yet there is no question that his pride was hurt. “My name is on my golf bag, I’ve won the Open Championship, I’m in the Hall of Fame – and when you hit one straight right off the first tee out of bounds it’s the equivalent of standing on the first tee on Ballybunion and hitting the graveyard. … My day was toast after that first tee shot.
“But, look, at one point I felt like I was going to shoot 90 out there and I came away with an 81. It’s not like I haven’t shot 81 in my life. But I don’t care if you’re 30, 40, 50, 60, whatever age you are, you really play a lot for your pride. And I’m not very proud of what I accomplished out there today. I should have played better. I expect better.”
He had loved the respect the R&A had shown in asking him to hit the first tee shot, even if it was at 6:30 am – and of course he had been dreaming of dispatching his ball bang down the middle of the gloriously green fairway. As it was, the wind and rain conspired to have him knocking his ball out of bounds on the right.
It had occurred to him that he might do better to take an iron or a hybrid off the tee, only he had thought again. His fear was that if he had used something less than a driver, he might not have made the fairway. So a driver it was and everything proceeded to go wrong, starting with his right hand slipping on the grip.
After playing his third off the tee, the game old champion proceeded as follows. His drive tumbled back into the left-hand fairway bunker and he played out sideways before knocking his fifth short of the green. On in six, he missed a 7-footer to head for the second tee with a quadruple bogey on his card.
He had his son, Shaun, on the bag. Shaun had been 9 when his father won. Today, he is 27 but such is his filial devotion that he was not as his father in thinking that that was the end of their Open chances for this week. As the elder O’Meara put it, “He stayed positive: his dad didn’t stay so positive.”
Yet what O’Meara did was to be the best of ambassadors for the game of golf. There was no striding off after leaving the scorer’s hut and no complaints. Which, as he would admit, is not what you always get from the younger generation.
“There’s too much ‘we’ in the modern game,” he suggested afterwards. “Youngsters talk about ‘we’ did this and ‘we’ did that in a reference to the teams they have around them. They need to take ownership of what they do. I’m not going to blame my caddie, my wife, you or anyone else for what I did today.
“I opened with an 8 and I took 81!”
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