After a five and a half hour drive down from Aberdeenshire, I arrived in Southport yesterday evening and met up with the vanguard of Golf Monthlys forces Neil Tappin, Jezz Ellwood and Mike Harris. The squad was pumped up and itching to begin coverage of the 137th Open Championship.
I hardly had time to sit down in our Land of Leather themed living room, to watch Graeme McDowell win the Scottish Open, before our journalistic extra sensory perception picked up on something interesting in the near vicinity. With our Padraig Senses tingling we travelled to Hesketh Golf Club where the genial Irishman was scheduled to be taking part in the opening ceremony for the Junior Open Championship.
We were eager to spot, maybe even grab a few words with, the defending champion so were a touch disappointed when we arrived to be confronted by a crowd of about 3,000 people – Junior golfers from 70 countries, their parents and chaperones, the majority of Heskeths membership plus numerous other members of the press and public. We had about as much chance of speaking with Padraig as Jean Van de Velde has of winning this Open Championship.
We stood around for some time on Heskeths putting green, in front of their attractive clubhouse. We discussed possible shot-making scenarios from improbable spots like – up against the flower pot outside the door to the locker rooms or stymied against the base of the flagpole. Time was ticking on and still no Harrington. An official announced that his plane had been delayed but that he was set to arrive soon. We waited some more and, embroiled in a debate over the unfair nature of the out-of-bounds rule, had to be moved on as we were in the way of a photo being taken of the junior competitors. I was a bit disappointed as I think I easily pass for a 16-year-old. I can only assume it was the other three who gave the game away.
A little more waiting and we got twitchy. Convinced there must be a huge story somewhere else nearby, we decided to leave. As we pulled out of the car park we drove past a Lexus Estate with a certain Padraig Harrington in the passenger seat. Damn and blast out manoeuvred by an Open Champion.
Ive just been in to a press conference with Tom Watson. Ill try and summarise some of the main things the five-time Open Champion had to say:
– He will play two more Opens after this one His last will be at St Andrews in 2010.
– He approves of the decision to shorten his exemption period his view is that spots should go to the younger players who can compete.
– There are now too many Major golf tournaments on the calendar. What with the Ryder Cup, Presidents Cup, FedEx Cup, Players Championship etc. he feels theres a danger of the smaller tournaments suffering.
– He can compete at the Open more effectively than at the Masters. He feels the way the Masters is now set-up, he is prevented from being able to compete at all.
He also confirmed hes been giving Brandt Snedeker some advice on how to play Birkdale what shots to favour and what spots to avoid. As the winner here in 1983, hes a pretty good coach. Theres already been quite a bit of money on the floppy haired American who broke down in tears following the final round of this years Masters. Hearing Tom Watson singing his praises and, knowing the veteran is advising him has made me add him to my ever-growing list of potential bets.
Over dinner last night I made my first bet of the week. Ive £20 on with Bill Eliott that Richard Green will finish ahead of Hunter Mahan. It was only after shaking hands that Bill informed me that Mahans last three Open finishes have been 36th, 26th and then 6th last year. I was made to feel a little nervous about my wager but then I remembered that Green finished in a tie for 4th last year. Its in the bag.