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An Open Championship like no other
The Open is the oldest championship in golf and for many people it is the apogee of the competitive game. If that is your view, too, then the likelihood is you believe an Open at St Andrews stands above all the rest.

There are Opens and Opens and then there are St Andrews Opens. Opens at the Home of Golf are unlike any other. They are often more exciting, vnearly always more atmospheric, usually better attended.

The first I went to was in 1970. It wasn’t just my first Open at St Andrews. It was the first Open I had attended. There are some things you don’t forget and to this day, 40 years later, I remember driving from London to Scotland in my Ford Cortina and, a few miles from St Andrews, accelerating out of a corner a little too quickly and my car skidding across the road into a wire fence. I extricated myself and the car only by reversing hard and breaking the wire as it attached itself to my front bumper.

That year I remember standing on tiptoe behind the 18th green watching as Doug Sanders missed that very short putt on the last green in regulation play, the one that would have won him the Open had he holed it. I remember ringing my wife of two months and telling her that I wouldn’t be coming home the next day on account of there being a playoff between Sanders and Nicklaus.

I remember Nicklaus removing his sweater on the 18th tee in the playoff and then smashing his ball through the back of the 18th green.I remember his soft shot from the fluffy grass behind the green, his victorious putt and his exultation. He threw his putter high in the air and he raised his arms in defence when he realised the putter was likely to come down and hit him. It didn’t but it frightened Sanders so much he bent double and put his hands over his head. That would have been a story. Open Champion knocks out opponent on the last green. Even better. Nicklaus wins Open then knocks himself out with his putter. That would have been a story, wouldn’t it?

So, so close: Jack Nicklaus won the 1970 Open in a playoff with Doug Sanders
So, so close: had it not been for that miss on 18, the American Doug Sanders may have been the one holding the Claret Jug

Accommodation all that time ago was in a student hall of residence, a sparsely furnished room. It wasn’t Hamilton Hall but one of the smaller ones nearby – St Salvatore’s, I think. I had a room without a bath or shower. They were down the corridor. They wouldn’t be now. Breakfast was provided in the hall but dinner was not. It was fish and chips from a chippie in the town. The expensive and attractive fish restaurant that can now be found just behind the museum had not yet arrived.

I remember an enormous rainstorm during the first afternoon and Tony Jacklin, the defending champion, being hauled off thecourse (as was everyone else) because the steps up from the 18th green had been turned into a waterfall. The Valley of Sin was flooded. I sat next to Doug Sanders at a lunch during a recent Open and found him an engaging companion who talked quite openly about the importance to him of that missed putt. He wore a pink jacket, a yellow shirt, white trousers and blue two tone shoes. He’s a snazzy dresser even in his 80s.

There used to be many second-hand bookshops in St Andrews. There was a good one on Bell Street that had a spiral staircase in it. Now it is a hairdresser’s. The last one that I can remember was on Golf Place but that disappeared a few years ago.

I have no recollection of the first time I played the Old Course the right way round but I have a clear memory of playing it backwards with Michael Bonallack, then R&A secretary, and the time ,a few years later, when I was the first to hole out over the Old Course when a group of us played it backwards. For a moment o rtwo, therefore, I was the holder of the course record. No, I am not going to tell you what my score was. But a little respect is in order, please. I can report that whether playing the Old Course the way it is played now or the left-handed way, I never came close to achieving the feat of Rhys Davies, the young Welsh professional, who birdied the 18th hole every one of the first ten times he played it.

Actually, now I come to think of it, I can remember the first time I played the Old Course. I joined three Scots on the 1st tee and we talked about bets. Nothing likely to rock the Bank of England to its foundations. Something like 10p out, 10p back and 10p on the match. I have no recollection of winning or losing, only of a wonderfulcourse and an enhancing experience.

What I do remember is the way a haar descended quickly when we were on the inward holes and shivers ran up and down my spine.This was a feature of St Andrews, I was told, how you could be in shirt sleeves one minute and scarcely able to see 100 yards because of a haar the next. By the time we got to the 18th it had lifted and all was well once again.

Opens are special. I cover dozens of events around the world each year and, although the Masters takes some beating and so does the President’s Putter for that matter, my absolute favourite is the Open. And of Opens, my absolute favourite are Opens at St Andrews. It is where golf is so important. It is what golf is all about. It is why golf is so important. I can’t wait.

July 2010

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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