Padraig Harrington wasn’t the only one to ‘repeat’ at this year’s Open Championship for I was there again just as I was at Carnoustie 12 months ago. Although he might justifiably claim that his successful defence of the title was more impressive than my back to back appearances, nevertheless I like to think that my two consecutive Opens have helped me further cement a reputation as a golf writer to be taken seriously just as he is now acknowledged as a formidable world-class golfer. A naturally shy and modest man, I’ll leave it to others to decide which of us is making the greater impact on the world of golf.
The Open is more than just four days of thrilling golf, it’s a huge, week-long, annual, get-together of everybody remotely connected with the game. Anybody who is anybody in the world of golf from magazine publishers to club manufacturers, from players’ agents to PR consultants are there frantically networking at the host of parties and presentations that go on endlessly throughout the week.
For those of us who love playing, watching and talking golf, it’s a veritable orgy. Golf is the only topic of conversation at every gathering and every meal. The restaurants, pubs, hotels and clubs within 10 miles of Birkdale were stuffed with golfers. Reluctant though I am to namedrop, on the next table at the Italian restaurant in Southport I ate at on Tuesday night, which had upped its prices every bit as much as God turned up the wind speed, were Phil Mickelson and John Daly. And at the Golf Monthly party on the end of Southport pier I attended on Wednesday night were both Nick Faldo and Paul Azinger neither of whom, incidentally, spoke to me. Maybe it’s because I’m self-conscious about my rubbish short game but I’m more comfortable chatting to fellow scribes than I am golf legends.
Before attending that party, I had been to Hesketh Golf Club to watch the third and final round of the Junior Open. This is a wonderful event staged every couple of years by the R&A at a course near to where the grownups are having their Open. Over 150 boys and girls under the age of 16 from almost every country imaginable take part including such seemingly non-golfing nations as Ecuador, Lebanon, Chile, Slovenia, Nigeria, Latvia, the Cayman Islands and Swaziland. Thirteen-year-old Moriya Jutanugarn from Thailand shot 72-75-78 in extremely testing conditions to become the first girl to take the title. Because I’m a patriot and am friendly with his father, I followed England’s 14-year-old Harry Whittle round on the final day and saw this hugely impressive, two-handicapper from Woburn finish as the leading home player in eighth with scores of 76, 75 and 81.
Having someone in the field to root for certainly enriches the spectating experience and those who read my Open blogs will know that, having played with him in the Press-Am curtain raiser to the Portugal Nations Cup last year, I followed Chris Wood round quite a bit of the time. The other two chaps in that successful team – Ben Evans and Ben Parker – have since turned professional and are now plying their trade on the Challenge Tour whilst Chris and I have retained our amateur status. If he now turns pro that will leave me as the sole-surviving amateur from that winning team.
Chris went on to finish joint fifth alongside Jim Furyk and won the Silver Medal presented to the leading amateur. At his press conference afterwards I had to ask whether he rated his performance as big a triumph as being in the team that captured the Portugal Nations Cup Press-Am. For me, his smile perfectly rounded off a memorable week.