Saturday, July 16, 2005

Why I Love The British

Sunday will mark the final round of the 134th Open Golf Tournament at the Old Course of Saint Andrews. The Open dates back to 1860 (play was suspended for the world wars) on a course that is centuries old.

I love The Open. Here’s why:

The Royal & Ancient course was landscaped by the earth.

A trap is a trap – a hazard that punishes a wayward shot, not a safe haven from which to par or birdie. Traps at the Old Course sport names like the grave, cat’s trap, the coffins, Nick’s bunker, the Hell bunker and the Beardies.

Greens are greens, not pool tables on a putt-putt layout.

The elements are in play: the wind and the rain, the weather and terrain.

The Royal & Ancient refuses to pretend that a championship course is anything but par 72. The combined greens at Saint Andrews add up to 18, keeping faith with the mystical bond of golf to the number nine.

At its best, an Open course requires an array of shots not required of an American style course. With few exceptions, you cannot win an Open without mastery of the knockdown, the bump-and-run, the stinger, the low runner, the bank shot, the draw and the fade.

Despite American dominance in recent years (8 of 10 champions), the Open is the truly international major. While Americans may be infatuated with the Masters and the US Open, the rest of the world recognizes the Claret Jug as the most prized treasure in golf.

The islanders love their champions and know the game, from the least recognized golfing masters (Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris) to the contemporary greats. All who would rise to the status of immortals (Hogan, Jones, Nicklaus, Woods) must pass the test of the Open.

It ain’t over ‘til it’s over. A ball lost in the gorse, out-of-bounds at the Road Hole, or five shots out of a pot bunker is always possible. According to script, the leaders come back to the field as the afternoon winds kick up and the sun bakes the already hard ground.

As they say, play on and may the best golfer win.

Postscript: All hail the Tiger! Long may he reign!

[Tiger Woods Major championships: 2 Opens, 4 Masters, 2 US, 2 PGA + 3 US Amateurs. If the Amateur is included, Tiger now ranks second, tied with Bobby Jones, seven behind Jack Nicklaus, two ahead of Walter Hagen, and four clear of Gary Player and the immortal Ben Hogan.]

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