ONE of the basic rules of the pro golf tour is that if you want to bump into a few players then all that needs to be done is to locate the nearest steak restaurant. There might be a few veggies who play high-octane golf for a living but the norm is that these guys love nothing better than ingesting fairly recently slaughtered beef.
In Southport the eating action tends to start and end at The Grill Inn (geddit?) a pleasant enough hostelry that is situated at the Birkdale end of Lord Street, the once famous and elegant shopping street that retains its elegance but in a very faded sort of way and with a hotch-potch of shops that seem to these eyes to include a rather high number of places selling the sort of lingerie that a sensible lass would not team up with her hiking boots.
Anyway the Big Plan was for the GM team to hold what a senior executive described as an Open strategy meeting. This is the sort of thing senior executives do to while away those tedious hours between one bar closing and another opening. Apparently it was a very successful meeting too and everyone now knows what they are doing this week. To be honest this is a bit of a worry because I cant remember much about it all.
However, what I do remember is that Justin Leonard was gnawing on something at the next table and that the former Open champion continues to bear a striking resemblance to the Duke of York. Or is it the other way round? On another table the Gregories Havret and Bourdy were charming the wotsit out of the waitresses with their garlic, sorry Gallic, charm. And standing by the door was Steve Stricker who was trying to travel incognito in jeans, trainers and the sort of top favoured by men who have mislaid their vanity.
Twice I had to interrupt his conversation with someone and twice he was sweetly polite, apologising to me for being in the way and generally behaving like the nicest American on the planet. Strickers recovery from a bad place over the last couple of seasons has been one of the games more satisfying stories and so I am delighted to report that he also is a very nice bloke. Manners dont count for much when it comes to winning big sports things but they matter to me and so I hope he enjoys a particularly joyful week this time.
I feel the same about Jim Furyk who for years now has been one of the most approachable and friendly of pros. I bumped into him by the 18th green yesterday and we paused for a quick chat after his practice round. Do I enjoy these practice rounds before majors? he said in answer to me question. No, not really. There are too many people for that. Practising on my own is peaceful and I enjoy that but I cant do that at a major. The rounds usually take forever and there is always someone in the group who insists on practising ten three foot putts on every green instead of practising afterwards. Still, it has to be done, you have to get to know the course and prepare for all eventualities. And, yes, its very good to be here.
Leaving Furyk to find some much-needed peace I then bumped into Ken Brown who was, as usually, preparing meticulously for his starring BBC TV role this week. Ken is a genuinely astute observer of the game and so I asked him what he thought of Birkdale at this stage.
Its obviously been very wet in recent weeks and so it is very, very green and lush. If there is such a thing as an American style links for The Open Championship then this is it. This was good to hear because my early money has gone on young American Hunter Mahan at 66/1. Mahan finished sixth last year and has crept into Lancashire under the radar of most of the bookmakers. Can he win? Yes he can. Will he? Who knows but what I do know is that at this stage his price offers outstanding value for money. Dont say you havent been warned.