ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI | On Sunday, a flight to the US to stay at a hotel on the rim of St Louis. On Monday a drive to Bellerive Country Club where the American Express World Golf Championship event would be held. On Tuesday? Well, Tuesday 11 September 2001 was a little different.
Driving to the course, I heard crackly reports on my car radio of an aeroplane crashing into a building in Manhattan. Soon the horror became clear. The events of that September day, whether known as 9/11 in the US and the 11th of September elsewhere, would make sure nothing in the world, whether of golf or any other, would be the same again.
Why? What? Where? To whom? How? When? These were just some of the questions that were asked.
Pádraig Harrington calmly ate lunch at the Country Club. Niclas Fasth walked around in a daze of uncertainty. Tiger Woods climbed into his rented car and drove home, all 1,000 miles of it, stopping only for food and fuel. Players were stranded in St Louis for days.
A Briton in the US at such a time, I felt more American than ever. I had lived in the US 40 years earlier. The New York Times sat by my computer, The New Yorker on my bedside table. My television was tuned permanently to a news channel. I came to love the notes and words of the national anthem.
I was struck by the feelings of insecurity of the Americans. Why does everybody hate us, they asked. Though miles away from Ground Zero, I was encouraged to write about what it was like to be in the US at this exceptional time.
I wrote of how at the bar of a jazz club in St Louis and on hearing my accent an American turned to me and said, “Thank you for coming to our country.” I discovered that my despatches to The Times in London were being read around the world by receiving e-mails from central Africa, from Asia, Australia. Mostly, the writers were American and mostly they said, “Thank you.”
I watched President Bush visit Ground Zero. I thought of how some of my colleagues flying to report the golf tournament had been grounded en route. I reported that the WGC event had been cancelled and that the Ryder Cup would be delayed for one year.
In time I flew down to cover the first sports event held in the US after 9/11, when the New York Mets travelled to PNC Park to play the Pittsburgh Pirates where the most enormous American flag I had ever seen was flying. It was huge, the size of a football field.
In those tumultuous days spent in the US 17 years ago I thought about golf’s place in this international maelstrom. If it had once been important, now it seemed as small and insignificant as a golf ball. And if the truth be told, that is both how it has remained and how it should remain.