Why I Love the Bloody Open
When it comes to the Open Championship, just never make the mistake of calling it the British Open. As a friend from over the pond once told me: “Only Americans refer to it as the British. Everyone else in the entire world calls it ‘the Open.’ ”
For some odd reason, such bloody snobbery appeals to me when it comes to golf. And considering we’re returning to Scotland this year, the country where the game was born, and to magical yet mysterious Muirfield Golf Club, no less, it just got me thinking about how much I love “the Open.”
That feeling goes back to my childhood, when I would watch the tournament early in the morning on TV – yes, a black-and-white set. I still remember how the putts would leave a tracer-like effect on the screen, so you could see how the ball traveled from the moment it left the blade until it arrived at the cup. I was fascinated. (Who would have guessed that’s now a “special effects” feature of every golf broadcast, proving that the game has come full circle?)
Of course, the BBC was a new and different media to me back in those days, and this announcer guy Peter Alliss was sensationally sarcastic and a little salty, at least compared to his American counterparts. Alliss, the guy who gets credit for the golf cliché “Hit the ball, Alliss (most believe it’s “Alice”),” is a big part of why I have enjoyed the Open to the max over the years. Alliss, who is picking recently crowned U.S. Open champion Justin Rose “to go on and on and on” this week at Muirfield, only makes cameo appearances these days, which is why it’s important — at least to me — to listen to the entire broadcast each day.
Alliss has been “the Voice of British golf” for almost 40 years, same as his sidekick, Ivor Robson, the Open Championship’s emcee, so to speak. Robson with his distinguished yet high-pitched voice is the gentleman who makes the introductions annually on the first tee of the Open, with his trademark: “And now from the United States . . . Tiger W-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-ds!” He almost sounds like a boxing announcer, except its better. It’s British, baby! (Think Austin Power.)
I still love to get up early in the morning, except now the Open is earlier than ever. Because it’s carried live, we’ve got about an eight-hour difference, meaning they’re teeing it up while most people are sleeping. But for some reason, I instinctively pull myself out of deep sleep when it comes to the Open if for no other reason than to see if it’s going to be one of those days when the wind erects flags and the rain goes sideways. Sad to say, it won’t happen this week, as the forecast calls for sunny skies with temperatures in the mid-70s. The wind won’t get beyond a whimpering 8 mph, which will leave the tall grass mostly untrampled.
Thankfully, this time around we won’t have to listen to Nick Faldo, an announcer who has the right dialect but obviously has spent too much time in America. Sir Nickie just doesn’t stack up against these Alliss and these BBC guys. The three-time Open champion, who won two of his Claret Jugs at Muirfield, is skipping his usual gigs with ABC and the Golf Channel to tee it up in the tournament at age 56. (Be careful what you wish for!)
During his press conference Monday, Faldo called his somewhat surprising appearance in the field “the last chance I get to walk with fellow Open champions.” After his game bombed big-time three years ago at St. Andrews, who would have guessed Faldo would put his ego on the line again? And, no, this won’t be anything close to what 59-year-old Tom Watson did three years ago at Turnberry, or, for that matter, Greg Norman in 2008 at Royal Birkdale at 53.
“I’m trying to bust my buns and get to learn this golf course, because it’s like a main road out there – hard and fast,” said Faldo, who probably knows he’s in over his head. “The bottom line: I hope by the end of the week I’m inspired, like all of us.”
Apparently Faldo likes his chances of winning about as much as he does the co-favorites, Woods and Rory McIlroy. “(McIlroy) is still testing clubs,” Faldo pointed out in his somewhat arrogant, “he doesn’t have a chance” style. “Tiger is in a different mode, where he’s winning regular tournaments but he gets to the majors and something happens. There’s a little dent in there somewhere. He hits the wrong shot at the wrong time, where before Tiger would hit the right shot at the right time.”
Yes, the Open is inspiring and unpredictable despite Faldo, which is why they occasionally crown champions like Paul Lawrie and Ben Curtis and . . . John Daly. Or as Ernie Els, “the defending defender” put it during his media gathering on Monday, “Any player is good enough to win an Open.” And the Big Easy means it.
“Phil seems like he’s comfortable (in the Open) after so many years (of being uncomfortable),” added Els, who won the Claret Jug at England’s Royal Lytham & St. Annes Course last year and also was the winner at Muirfield in 2002, the last time the Open was held there.
Ernie is an astute, down-to-earth guy, as Mickelson is coming off a win last week at the Scottish Open. But Lefty has a track record of not playing well in this tournament even though he tied for second in 2011 before shooting himself in the foot last year with a 78 on Friday that sent him packing. But if a runner-up finish in this year’s U.S. Open could serve for momentum, you never know about “Phil the Thrill.” And the Claret Jug could be the perfect elixir, Els explained.
“Winning the Open Championship, you can actually have the actual trophy and keep it for a year,” Els said, beaming like a kid. “I know it went around the world in the last year, and it was a wonderful time.”
Yes, the Claret Jug inscription ceremony is hard to beat, just like the bagpipes and the crusty presentation by the Royal & Ancient Club of St. Andrews. Not surprisingly, and unlike their brethren at Augusta National Golf Club, the R&A stubbornly keeps hosting its events at all-male clubs like good ol’ Muirfield and everybody keeps turning a head to the notion of equality because, after all, this is THE Open.
Asked about the all-male status, Els gave a thoughtful answer that tried to cover both ends of the opinion spectrum even if he failed badly. “(Muirfield has) been here for many years, and they’ve never thought about changing their policy. We play the Open Championship on this wonderful course, and I’m not going to miss it for the world, whether it’s got, unfortunately, this policy or not. In fact, I’m going to play it in the Sahara Desert if I have to.”
Muirfield is a big part of this 150-year-old tournament, ranking fourth in most Opens held there with 15, the first dating back to 1892. Sure, I don’t agree with the all-male philosophy, but I’m all about tradition, and it lives on at Muirfield.
“(Muirfield is) the No. 1 reason I’m playing,” said Faldo, adding that when it comes to the old guys running the club and excluding women, “That’s for the club to decide.”
Yes, don’t mess with the Brits when it comes to all-male golf clubs that host the Open, which also include St Andrews and Troon. And don’t ever – EVER! — call it the “British Open” if you know what’s good for you.
Just turn off your alarm, lay back on your pillow and savor one of golf’s greatest treasures. The real world can wait.
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