I spent last week on a canal boat in France with my wife and daughter. Seven days without having to look for a lost ball was only a couple short of my personal best. Croissant for breakfast, crates of red wine and largely uninterrupted sunshine are all very well but I would nevertheless have gone stir crazy were it not for a talent I possess to retreat into my own head and focus on the only thing that really matters? golf.
Fuelled by an especially intoxicating combination of alcohol and garlic, my mind wandered back to Carnoustie and the extraordinary climax to this year?s thrilling Open. Apart from the remarkable way events unfolded on that unforgettable Sunday afternoon, what still baffles me most was my own confused reaction to the drama. Specifically, my shifting loyalties.
Like the overwhelming majority of the partisan crowd that converged on Carnoustie, I was desperate for a European victory. But what I didn?t want more than anything else was for Tiger Woods to win. Why? He?s undoubtedly the greatest golfer in the world, seems a thoroughly decent individual and is the best thing to happen to our beloved game since the gutta-percha replaced the feathery, so why was I so eager for that flawless smile not be seen reflected in the claret jug yet again?
It?s partly, I think, my inherent British sympathy for the underdog and Tiger is certainly no underdog. It?s the same possibly unworthy emotion that takes delight in seeing Chelsea or Manchester United come unstuck. The other thing about Tiger is that he is undeniably American and perhaps I?ve grown rather weary of seeing a succession of Yanks capturing our most precious prize. They are welcome to the US Open and even more so to the USPGA Thingy, but I resent their dominating OUR Open.
Again I find myself asking, why? Did the United States of America not come, albeit rather tardily, to our defence in the last couple of world wars? Although perhaps a tad loud, rather too parochial and with appalling table manners, Americans nevertheless strike me as a thoroughly friendly and hospitable lot. Even though they don?t understand cricket, can?t spell properly and eat too many hamburgers, that?s no genuine justification for wanting to see them slice drives, land in bunkers and miss short putts.
Anyway, once Steve Stricker imploded the American threat effectively vanished. So who did I cheer for? Initially, I was pulling for young Sergio. After all he?s an entertaining character and, terribly important, undeniably European. But then Padraig Harrington made a move. Padraig is not only European but his native tongue is more or less English. Although regrettably not British, being Irish is surely the next best thing.
Then the youthful Romero holed a bunker shot and a succession of extraordinary putts and looked like nicking it. Why did that bother me? The Falklands War is but a distant memory, as is Maradona?s ?Hand of God? goal, so why was I relieved when the young Argentine suffered an outrageous piece of misfortune when his second at the 17th ricocheted out of bounds? Maybe I felt that Argentina has enjoyed enough success just recently.
But the turmoil wasn?t over as, having made an Irish stew of the 18th in regulation play, Padraig bounced back with a birdie at the first play off hole to Sergio?s bogey and I started to feel ridiculously sorry for the Spaniard and was hoping that he would pull level so as to prolong the excitement and delay the moment at which one of them had to lose and I had to make up my mind who I really wanted to win.
In the end, I was delighted for the almost British Harrington and desperately sorry for young Sergio. But I remain very confused. Perhaps another bottle of the Burgundy I brought back will help untangle my complex web of emotions. Or maybe Guinness will do the job more effectively. Who knows?