I still have a cap on display in my office that declares, “I Lost My Balls In Scotland,” a chapeau that doesn’t indicate anything missing physically, but more my prowess, or lack of it, for playing links golf as the British Open proceeds this week at Royal Liverpool.
As it is in the rest of the golf industry, I’m having a difficult time concentrating on work with the third major of the year going on.
Some detest the term “British Open,” preferring to instead call it the more traditional “Open Championship,” which just seems to be stretch, at least on this side of the Atlantic, to let others know that a person is indeed the epitome of golf purist.
That is by no means meant to demean the major currently taking place across the waves, although I confess when an English lad I was playing with a few years ago started talking about the Open Championship, I pretended to think he was talking about the Canadian Open.
His reaction was worth it, but I digress.
I have no time for the silly argument about which of the majors is the best. Each has its own attributes, but the British Open has an aura, perhaps because it’s the oldest, perhaps because it’s played so far away from North America or perhaps because it’s links golf.
Hopefully, those who have watched the Open Championship (I’ll alternate references to keep everybody happy) over the years take note of the courses and their natural seaside features should their own courses go more natural for sustainability and – yes. I’ll say it – less cost.
It’s that natural environment North Americans revel in when they watch the Open and definitely when they visit, which makes one wonder why they would protest if a more natural look took hold here, replacing the pristine conditions to which we’ve become accustomed.
Personally, I love it despite some incidents I’d rather forget, including the one that led to me getting my Lost Balls in Scotland cap.
A bunch of us had a match play competition going on a tour of Scotland a few years back and the final day was singles competition. On a gusty, cold day, I was up by two with two to play and closing in on victory.
Despite the wind, my tee shot sailed straight and true and landed in the middle of the fairway that dog-legged to the left. Between me and the green was one of those infamous bunkers with a great sod wall devoted to preventing forward progress.
Normally, I would have gone three wood on the ensuing shot, but I have been known on more than one occasion to hit a worm-burner with that club, so I went with a five iron in the hopes of just clearing the bunker and getting it somewhere near the green.
As if that bunker was a siren luring my ball on to the rocks, it gladly accepted it and the tall wall did its best to prevent me from moving forward with any dignity. Still, I tried, but wound up hitting backwards before finally progressing it up the fairway.
Still, I was up by one heading to the final hole, where my tee shot wound up in the gorse. Halving the match after being two up was tough enough to take, but then I discovered a win would have given my team the overall victory. Instead, it ended in a dead heat.
That and a few other lost balls made me a deserving recipient of that cap, but I was proud to play well (by my standards) at Turnberry and Gleneagles, the site of this year’s Ryder Cup, but got beaten up by Prestwick right from the beginning.
The wayward tee shot that I experienced at Prestwick was not unlike one I had at another links course in northern France on another occasion. It landed in thick, long grass and I took so many swipes at it that I took a 12 right off the bat.
Nice way to start, but at least I didn’t get a hat that said I lost my balls in France.
Those experiences made me wonder how David Hearn would make out after getting into the Open when Mark Calcavecchia withdrew. Not that my game even remotely resembles Hearn’s, but he’d never been to Europe before and was learning links golf as he went along.
Yet, he shot a respectable two-under 70 in the first round on Thursday, so it will be interesting to watch his progress in this new environment, one that makes the British Open so special over there and for those of us tuning in from this side of the Atlantic.
Whether you call it the British Open or the Open Championship, it offers a taste of something different from the North American ideal of pristine conditions.
The point is well illustrated every July that links golf, or anything similar to it, should not be immediately rejected, but celebrated instead.