When I come to the United Kingdom for a golf related event, the weather is always a factor that I relish. You come to expect the unexpected in this part of the world and this weekend did not disappoint. The forecast in England or Scotland will change a couple times a day making it nearly impossible to figure out a proper dress assignment.
Saturday morning found us playing our final leg of the four Open qualifying courses at the Rye Golf Club, which is located about an hour northeast of Canterbury. Thomas Lewis, the young amateur who was tied for the lead after the first round, shot 63-64 at Rye a couple of weeks ago to win the qualifier and set a course record. Par at Rye is 68. Do you think the USGA would conduct a U.S. Open qualifier on a par 68 golf course?
Rye GC joined Littlestone GC, Royal Cinque Ports and Prince’s Golf Club as the foursome of courses the R&A chose to conduct its local qualifying for the 2011 Open Championship at Royal St. George’s. I found the playing conditions at Rye on Saturday to be the most brutal of my golfing career. Strong winds accompanied by heavy rain, made the day one I will never forget.
Every facet of the game was nearly impossible, but having a pair of rain grip gloves made playing on this day a doable deal. For those that don’t know, rain grips are worn on both hands. These gloves are designed to perform better as they get wetter. It also makes it unnecessary to keep the grips on the golf clubs dry.
By the third hole my shoes were full of water. My pants and underwear were soaking wet under my rain suit an hour into the round. Soon my upper body was drenched and the weight of my wet rain gear added at least ten pounds to what I carried.
My caddy was a grizzled Englishman in his early 60’s named Freddie. He was the best caddy that I have ever had in the UK. Freddie was himself a six handicapper. Winds on Saturday were between 60-70 kilometers, or 40-50 mph. Two things I will always remember about Freddie. He rolled his own cigarettes on this blusteriest of days and before I hit every shot he would say, “Commit to the shot, Ted.”
A few miles away, the players in the Open Championship were battling similar conditions. Peter Alliss, English golf legend and BBC commentator, called Saturday brutal. He said it was one of the three worst days of weather in the 140 year history of the British Open. Need I say more?
Saturday’s morning players at Royal St. George’s got the raw end of the draw. Many had played Thursday morning and Friday afternoon, which turned out to be the windiest and rainiest portion of the 2011 Open. When Darren Clarke teed off on Saturday, he only experienced three holes of tough weather. Phil Mickelson had nine.
Tom Lehman said it best this weekend, “Playing in this weather is as much about attitude as anything.”
Tom Watson had 18 holes of this brutal weather on Saturday morning. That evening I ran into Jim Nantz who was working for the BBC this week. He called Watson’s third round 72 a great round and one that will be lost in the agate type of the sports pages. The 61-year old Watson who has five Open titles to his credit just continues to amaze every year of this championship.
As the weekend progressed, it became hard even for us Americans not to root for Clarke. Several years ago he lost his wife to cancer. He has been a stalwart of golf for the Europeans over the years. The Northern Irishman paved the way for younger stars such as Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy. He is well like by Tour players and it was a popular win.
The Americans placed five players among the top seven including co-runnerup finishes by Mickelson and Dustin Johnson. Everyone in the world was ready to bury the boys from the U.S. When all was said and done, eight Americans finished in the top 12 of the 2011 Open Championship.
We spent our Sunday morning at Royal St. George’s and then returned to Canterbury to watch the final round of the Open at a local pub called Bishop’s Finger. I couldn’t resist. My final lunch at this year’s event included the best fish n’ chips I had all week washed down with a pint of Bishop’s Ale, a locally brewed dark libation.
Here are a few of my memories from this wonderful trip to the south of England.
- Playing the four Open qualifying courses in some of the rudest weather I ever teed it up in.
- The tightest fairways and firmest greens I ever played anywhere. The opposite of U.S. golf!
- The toughest, most brutal weather I have experienced at a professional golf event.
- Making back to back birdies into the winds at Royal Cinque Ports on Holes 3 and 4.
- Enjoying the R&A Dinner at the Canterbury Cathedral where Thomas Beckett was murdered inspiring Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales.”
- Playing the 17th at Littlestone GC and being a few yards from where the U.S. launched its invasion at Normandy.
- Renewing acquaintances across the pond with Jim Nantz and Harvey Green of the Miami Dolphins.
- The Abode Hotel where many Tour players stayed including Steve Stricker, Camillo Villegas, Matt Kuchar, Paul Casey, Thomas Bjorn, Thomas Lewis and Hunter Mahan. Anthony Kim lodged across the hall from me all week and it was great to see him back in form.
- The narrow pedestrian streets of Canterbury with its pubs, shops and eateries.
It truly was a “cracking” week and I really enjoyed taking you on this trip with me.