June 25, 2007

British Open memories

Our man has been typing about winners and losers across Scotland and England since the early '60s. Sometimes it's not who won or lost, but how he did it

Editor's note: Columnist Dan Jenkins attended his first British Open in 1962 at Royal Troon, Arnold Palmer's successful defense of his Open championship. The Open this year at the Old Course at St. Andrews was to be Jenkins' 21st for Golf Digest and the 37th of his career. This month we provide highlights from some of those Golf Digest stories:

1985: Royal St. George's: You don't skip a major because of the food or the bathrooms unless you have (a) no sense of history, or (b) no sense, period. Not in the prime of your career.

Curtis Strange took the most heat from the press, ours and theirs, and rightly so. This is the same Curtis Strange who nearly won the Masters back in April—and would have won if he'd used his head instead of his 4-wood at the 13th hole in Sunday's final round. His head, evidently, was still missing in July. First, he doesn't play short of the 13th at Augusta, then he does play short of the Atlantic Ocean.

1986: Turnberry: Sometimes it happens like this when you win your first major. They give it to you. The larger names get lost at sea, and Greg Norman waltzes with Matilda all the way to the oldest of the professional titles that mean anything, only casually looking over his shoulder to see what's happened lately to an Ian Woosnam, a Tommy Nakajima or a Gordon Brand.

1987: Muirfield: The cheers from all over the grandstands rang happily in his ears, but it must nevertheless be said that Nick Faldo is not all that popular with his fellow pros. They remember that he once had a knack for reporting them to officials for taking certain advantages of the rules. He called Sandy Lyle once for putting a Band-Aid on his putter, for example. Not that a bleeding putter is illegal.

__1988: Royal Lytham:__Years ago—like 62, to be exact—when Bobby Jones became the only American ever to win at Lytham and St. Annes, they put a plaque next to a bunker at the 17th hole to commemorate the shot Jones hit on his way to that victory. But it might not be possible to commemorate Seve Ballesteros' final-round 65 with plaques, for it would render the course unplayable.

The Open was played just down the road from Blackpool. That place, gaudy and vile, is what would happen in the U.S. if a tornado lifted up the worst parts of Disneyland and dropped them on Atlantic City. The last person to swim outdoors in Blackpool was undoubtedly in a shipwreck.

1989: Royal Troon: Was Greg Norman unlucky? Sure he was unlucky, but he also made some incredibly dumb decisions. The one thing you don't want to do in a stroke-play tournament is to have the ball in your pocket. It all goes to prove, as I've said before, Greg Norman doesn't know how to play golf.

1990: St. Andrews: Nick Faldo won his second British Open and his fourth major in the last four years, thereby establishing himself as the best player in the world today, all arguments and Greg Normans to the contrary. Just for the record, Faldo's major-championship finishes since July 1987 now read: 1, 28, 30, 2, 3, 4, 1, 18, 11, 9, 1, 3 and 1.

Saturday, July 21, 1990, will be remembered as the day Faldo undressed Norman in front of 45,000 fans and millions more on TV and left him with a new nickname: Crocodile Gerbil. Paired together and tied for the lead at 12 under par, Faldo stared a hole through Greg's brain on the first tee and then conducted a clinic with a near-flawless 67 while Norman thrashed around with a woeful 76, the third-worst score of the day.

You can almost hear someone years from now staring at Greg's 76 and saying to himself, "Boy, it must have rained pretty hard that day."

It did indeed. It rained Faldo, all over him.

__1991: Royal Birkdale:__The lobby of the Prince of Wales Hotel was where you could observe crusty RA officers, who are easily identified by their gray hair, gin-red faces, navy blazers and neckties of dark blue gaily speckled with oxtail soup. You stand and stare at the gorse and thatch in their noses and hear one say to another, "Yes, quite so. That was the year of Henry Cotton, Lord Derby and that business with the casual water."

1993: Royal St. George's: Welcome to Masterpiece Golf, starring—finally—Greg Norman. It was simply one of the most beautiful rounds of golf ever played.

1995: St. Andrews: Was it not exactly 12 months ago to the week when Curtis Strange had told John Daly to crawl back under the rock from where he came that he crawled back out to win the unlikeliest of championships on the unlikeliest of courses on the unlikeliest of days?

So now John Daly has a British Open to go with his PGA, which makes him an even larger drawing card for golf—I say the largest today—and maybe it's dawned on everybody that if Arnold Palmer once took the game to the people, John Daly has now taken it to the people in the RV parks.

1997: Royal Birkdale: Ian Baker-Finch went out in 44 and came back in 48, which sounded like a man's service history in World War II.

1999: Carnoustie: You can't throw away a major championship the way Jean Van de Velde did. Just can't happen. When a double bogey wins a major, you don't turn yourself into a martyr with a triple. But that's what Jean of Argh did on Carnoustie's 487-yard par 4.

How bad was it? There was a rumor in the press tent that Van de Velde is French for Greg Norman.

2002: Muirfield: The Grand Slam still flutters somewhere over Scotland like a wounded sea gull, book publishers are still weeping, scads of writers are still trying to convince Ernie Els to let them help him turn out the bestseller, Watch Out for Your Lap, a British Open Might Fall in It, and I'm still waiting for Tiger Woods to come to the press tent. Before I get to how Big Ernie won his third major championship to elbow ahead of all the other lurkers, let me tell you what I will remember about the 131st British Open: In the rain, chill, mist, wind and gray gloom of Muirfield on an Agatha Christie Saturday, Eldrick (Tiger) Woods had a head-on collision with a shocking I-surrender-get-me-outta-here-and-turn-the-thermostat-up 81.

__2004: Royal Troon:__There were more strangers in this British Open than you'd f.nd in a pot of haggis. But Todd Hamilton put Ernie Els, a six-time runner-up in majors, only 13 behind Jack Nicklaus for second-place headaches. Give credit to Hamilton as a guy who took on the big names without flinching. And when Todd held up the claret jug, you could imagine the looks on the faces of the guys who went AWOL from a qualifying round for the Open the month before at Congressional. Some people play for history; other people prefer to watch it from the den.

Future British Open venues

2006

Royal Liverpool G.C.

Hoylake, England; July 20-23

2007

Carnoustie

Scotland; July 19-22

2008

Royal Birkdale G.C.

Southport, England; July 17-20