I sat in solitary quiet just after 6:30 a.m. Thursday morning in the dining room of the Abode Hotel here in Canterbury. The only other person in the room was Camillo Villegas, PGA Tour player from Argentina. A few miles away, the first tee shots were being hit at Royal St. George’s Golf Club in Sandwich.
Villegas and I have opened the restaurant each morning this week. Today, he seemed more focused, less relaxed and ready to finally get this Open underway. He went on to card a one over par 71 and is tied for 53rd.
As I drank my morning coffee and waded through The Times, London’s newspaper, one story couldn’t help and catch my attention. On page 71, was a headline that read, “Overawed, overrated and over here- the Yanks are coming, not just yet.” The British are clearly at a point where they show little respect to American golfers. Here is a little bit from The Times article written by Matt Dickinson.
“Come back Tiger, all is forgiven; at least by American golf journalists desperate for a good news story. Or any story.
“It is bad enough that the new boys from the U.S. do not win majors. Less forgivable still is that they are, how can we put this politely, lacking in “wow” factor. Or just plain dull. Whatever you think of Woods, he brings a crackle of anticipation.
“Anthony Kim? He’s decided to have his parties in his room and not on the 18th greens. Ricky Fowler? America wants to believe he’s the torchbearer, but he’s never won. He dresses funny, he’s recognizable, but I want someone who can win. Nick Watney? A nice, young guy, but I don’t think he’s going to be the champion golfer of the year.
“Steve Stricker? He is not getting any younger. As for Bubba Watson, he has made it hard to take him seriously.
“So, over to Phil Mickelson, a man in such dubious form that successive questions this week were ‘Is it true that the marshals used hard hats because you were spraying it all over the shop?’ and ‘What’s happened to your driving?’ “
Dickinson goes on to point out that the most repeated statistic of the week is that the U.S. has no claim to any of the majors, which has happened only once before, in 1994, when Jose Maria Olazabal (Masters); Ernie Els (U.S. Open) and Nick Price (PGA and British Open) reigned for Europe and South Africa just as Rory McIlroy, Charl Schwartzel, Martin Kaymer and Louis Oosthuizen do now.
Of today’s top ten in the World Rankings, only four are Americans. There were no Americans in the top three of The Masters for the first time ever.
Dickinson took one final punch at the Yanks. “As Europe celebrates the brilliance of McIlroy, the high rankings of Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, and readies itself for Matteo Manassero to start challenging for majors, America looks to the horizon. And keeps looking.”
While it is hard to argue with Dickinson’s numbers, Thursday’s first round at the Open found many American flags on the leaderboard. Lucas Glover and Webb Simpson were tied for third at 4 under par. Four more Americans, including Indiana’s Jeff Overton, were tied for seventh place. A total of 11 Yanks were in the top eighteen after one round.
Friday’s forecast calls for partly sunny skies with a high temperature of 67. The winds will be medium strength. Players will look at the second round as their chance to go low. The weekend forecast calls for rain and high winds- it could be a 36-hole endurance contest on Saturday and Sunday.
Thomas Bjorn from Denmark is the first round leader. I like the karma here. Bjorn took a two shot lead into the final three holes of the 2003 Open Championship held here at Royal St. George’s. He hit a shot into a bunker on the 16th hole and left with a double bogey after leaving three shots in the bunker. Eventually, he finished runner-up to Ben Curtis.
This year, Bjorn who is ranked 80th in the world, only gained an invitation to play in the Open after Vijay Singh withdrew with a bad back.
“I am not in the greatest of form. I haven’t been for awhile,” said Bjorn. “But, if you come in with low expectations and just try to enjoy yourself, knuckle down and work hard, you can get the best out of it.”
It probably would be wise for those unheralded Americans to take heed to Bjorn’s advice. They should certainly have low expectations. I would guess they know how to enjoy themselves. The American way is to work hard and try to get the best from all situations. The good news for the Yanks is that ten of the former 14 Open champions at RSG were first time major winners.
There is one final statistic that Dickinson failed to mention regarding his own countrymen. Not since Nick Faldo won the 1992 Open Championship at Muirfield has an English player captured the Claret Jug. BBC promos for the television coverage of the Open show highlights of the English golf stars with the caption, “Will this finally be the year that the English break through?”
After being in Jolly Ole England this week, I think these Brits are still upset about that Tea Party! Go USA…………