Just another night in golf's home

Former British Open champions Gary Player (left) and Stewart Cink shake hands before they pose for a photograph of former champions on the 1st tee on the Old Course at St. Andrews. Cink is the defending champion while Player won it three times (in 1959, 1968 and 1974).

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland --- Things to do on a Tuesday night in St. Andrews.


In an effort to convey just a little bit of the atmosphere that is pervasive when the Open Championship comes to the home of golf, here's a snapshot of the events that transpired from the minute we stepped out of the media centre last evening.

First we stumbled upon the group photo of the past champions in attendance on the first tee. From 87-year-old Argentine Roberto de Vicenzo to defending champion Stewart Cink, they assembled in the shadow of the iconic R&A clubhouse (with the notable exceptions of cancer-stricken Seve Ballesteros and Jack Nicklaus, whose inexplicable regrets have been a tough pill to swallow for the locals who feted his farewell and put his face on their money five years ago).

To see them gathered there in front of a swarm of photographers was a marvel. Lee Trevino and Arnold Palmer. Peter Thomson and Tom Watson. Bill Rogers and Gary Player. Tiger Woods and Padraig Harrington uneasily flanking John Daly, who was decked out in an unfortunate neon-patterned sports coat that appeared to have been stitched from a Holiday Inn hallway carpet.

Once the champions retired for dinner in the clubhouse, we went in search of our own. We walked past the fishhouse, where the night before we chatted on the sidewalk with 2004 Open champion Todd Hamilton as he ate his fish and chips off the top of a garbage can. We found a table in the corner of a cozy Italian bistro. Beside us was former Masters champion Mike Weir and his family, fresh off a three-week vacation in Tuscany yet still craving a little bolognese sauce. Scattered around at other tables are Kenny Perry, Davis Love III, Matthew Goggin and enough international golf writers to hold a press conference.

Sated, we stumble into the betting parlor next door to check out the latest Open odds along with a few caddies you recognize by face if not by name. Tiger Woods has climbed to 6-to-1, so you reflexively drop 10 pounds as a hedge against your longer hunches.

Still bright at 9:30 p.m. and ready for a pint, we set out for The Jigger Inn that is nestled between the Road Hole and the Old Course Hotel. The best route from the car park is across the course and over the Swilcan Bridge.

By this time the champions' dinner has let out. While autograph seekers hover around Palmer and Tom Lehman as they exit the clubhouse, Cink and David Duval walk amongst the populace up the first fairway toward their hotel carrying their gifts from the evening. Cink pauses for photographs with a few fans and shows off the silver replica of the belt buckle that served as the original prize for Open winners until Young Tom Morris got to keep it after winning three consecutive and the claret jug was commissioned.

"You think Augusta National would let people walk around like this two days before the Masters?" asks Cink.

Up walks Davis Love III wearing blue jeans. He laughs about the last-minute invitation he received as second alternate, replacing Anthony Kim in the field.

How many consecutive Opens have you played?

"This will be 24," Love said. "This is my fifth Open at St. Andrews."

Old-age jokes ensue as we watch Duval, in his suit, climb over the stone wall along the 17th hole only to realize he's locked out of his hotel.

"There's your Open champion," says Love as Duval taps on the door.

The Jigger Inn is quiet since the hotel is filled with Open participants less inclined to stay up drinking. But Gerry and Rosie McIlroy are there and happy to chat with the reporter from Charlotte, where their son Rory stormed to his first PGA Tour victory in May with a brilliant closing 62. Gerry tells us how Rory kicked him the first time his father introduced himself to Jack Nicklaus.

"Why did you kick me?" Gerry asked.

"Because you called him Jack -- he's Mr. Nicklaus," Rory said.

Up walks former Louisville, Ga., resident Brian Gay and his wife, Kimberly, to settle their dinner tab. This is Gay's first trip to St. Andrews and he's soaking it in.

On Sunday, Gay went to get his first look at the Old Course but was reconsidering when he stood on the first tee with the wind howling at 40 mph. Just as he and Ben Crane were about to scuttle their practice-round plan, Tom Watson walked up and asked to join them.

"I would have quit but the next thing I know we're playing 18 with Tom Watson," Gay said. "The course was unplayable, but it was great."

Gay learned more in five-and-a-half hours with Watson just watching as the 60-year-old, five-time Open champion prepared for another major tournament.

"He was grinding," Gay said. "He hit three drives off the new tee on 17. We walked around to see where they all landed. Ben and I look around and Watson's gone. He went back to the tee to hit two more shots. He was unbelievable."

We drain our pints over stories with the Gays and McIlroys of midnight pilgrimages by flashlight to see the graves of Old and Young Tom Morris, then we head out into the night as the last light faded from sky. It's 11 p.m. and the R&A clubhouse glows over the game's ancient home. We walk up The Links between the now quiet 18th hole and the shoppes that preside over it.

Tired from the day, we pass on the siren call of the famous bar at The Dunvegan, where Todd Hamilton -- still in his suit from the dinner -- is buying beers for a few golf writers. Instead we walk the three blocks up The Scores past the Martyr's Monument and the Witches Hole to the St. Salvators dormitory, where Prince William stayed when he attended the university.

Another day at St. Andrews is over, with nothing left to do but sleep and wonder what the next day will bring.


Wed, 08/16/2017 - 23:27