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British Open 2017: Meet the busiest -- and most unpopular -- man at Royal Birkdale on Day 1

July 20, 2017

SOUTHPORT, England -- Howard Rothwell seems like a nice guy, but on Day 1 of the British Open he basically played the role of Royal Birkdale's grim reaper. A tournament marshal positioned in the right rough on the first hole, Rothwell was tasked with raising a red flag to alert players on the tee that their opening shots were out of bounds.

And he got quite a workout on Thursday morning.

Players teeing off early were greeted rudely by Birkdale's starting par 4, especially with a hurting crosswind blowing right. Mark O'Meara, the 1998 champ here, had the honor of hitting the tournament's first tee shot at 6:35 a.m., and. . . goodbye, golf ball.

"That's sad, you know he really wanted to represent himself well," said Rothwell, who used a pair of binoculars to help spot the golf balls against a grey sky. "They're looking forward to a moment, the start of 72 holes, and the first shot puts them two behind the field already. That is hard."

But Rothwell didn't find it hard to raise that red flag. Or the green one, which was used to let players know their dicy shots down the right side remained in play. That one was used a lot less, however. When guys went right, odds were, their golf balls were gone. And the first eight groups combined to play the hole in 23 over par.

"Some of them, as soon as you raise the red flag, they don't even come your way," Rothwell said. "They're not even going to speak to you, not out of discourtesy. They're just out."

Rothwell's task, which he only learned of Thursday morning, made him a solitary -- and perhaps, unpopular -- figure, but he loved every minute of it. Even as the carnage piled up.

"It's a bit dangerous, but from my perspective, you're on your own," Rothwell said. "You're on the inside looking out, so I thought it was great."


Rothwell was relieved of his duty at promptly noon after being on the clock for about six hours, and the Hillside Golf Club member hurried off to the neighboring course for a 12:10 tee time. But he hopes to be back in the same spot at Royal Birkdale on Friday morning. Those teeing off then hope they don't need to look in his direction.