Oddly enough, this trip of six rounds in five days was as much about soccer as it was about golf.
Before I left the U.K., I stopped in London for a night. Not only do I love the city, this bought me some time to watch the U.S.-Ghana World Cup game among some rabid football fans.
Ranking right up there with the U.S. hockey team's Miracle on Ice in 1980 (which was my first sense of national pride), to The Catch by Dwight Clark at Candlestick in 1982 (which reversed the juju of my favorite football franchise for almost two decades), to Padres catcher Terry Kennedy handing me a ball at a Padres-Giants Opening Day game in 1985 (which set my status as a Friar fan forever), to my first live impressions of Augusta National at sunrise on a Wednesday in April 1997 (which confirmed my suspicion that a golf course can be more spiritual than a church), watching Landon Donovan's goal to beat Algeria in the 92nd minute at a Cardiff bar is yet another sports moment that I will remember forever. (Click here for a link. It never gets old.)
With the exception of a fellow American, a U.S.-loving Austrian and an Algerian in an authentic Algerian jersey, the entire Welsh crowd was watching the England-Slovenia game. Eight massive flatscreens were showing that game, and the place was packed with people who have long lived in the shadow of the royal flag, rooting for a team which turned out to be a not-so royal nag. The four people who cared about the outcome of the U.S.-Algeria game were left off to the side of the bar in front of the one and only small screen displaying the four-year fate of true football in the States. Lose and we take two giants steps back. Win and take one small but critical step forward.
And then Donovan was there for the rebound and three of us went nuts. Jumping, hugging, slapping and screaming, we were loud and spontaneous with our bruise-inducing celebration. With tears in our eyes, I think we caught the crowd by surprise. They couldn't believe we cared so much about a brand of football without helmets and hash marks.
I assume you've seen this--the compiled clips of reaction to Donovan's goal:
It's pretty cool to come back and find out now we weren't the only ones losing our patriotic minds, because at that Cardiff bar, it sure felt that way.
Unfortunately the Ghana game on my getaway day from the U.K. didn't have a similar outcome. And at a posh pub in South Kensington, I'll admit it was tough to be surrounded by such anti-American sentiment. The Brits were clearly a bitter bunch because of their underachieving squad (who went on to get pounded by the Germans, all the way back to questionable calls of 1966), and they were still probably upset that "the comeback kids" from the United States emerged as the winners of Group C. In soccer they often refer to "good runs." That's what "we" had.
And my good run ended that night at Dukes in St. James' Place, a boutique hotel famous for one of the best dry martinis in town.
Order one and a guy wheels out a squeaky wooden cart that dates to 1906. Stocked with all the necessary ingredients, a very proper bartender puts on a short show that includes a high pour into a chilled glass, subtle dashes of vermouth and a fresh lemon peel mist. If you can find Dukes, duck in for at least a drink. Have too many martinis, and you can stay there for $270 per night for two people (summer rates).
I'm just finishing my Away Game about Wales for the September issue of Golf Digest (we close the issue tomorrow). In the process of some Internet searches for tidbits of info I came across Ali G's tour of Wales. Another video worth a look and a few laughs:
On that Wednesday afternoon in Wales, after Donovan's miracle on the pitch but before he left the bar, I offered our friend the random Algerian fan a pint to ease his pain. He politely passed. I'm still kicking myself for not asking for his jersey. In a land rich with so much history, I wish I would've cashed in on tradition.
(Donovan photo courtesy of Getty Images; Dukes photo is from their website.)