by Ralph Routon
"A gentle breeze, laddie ... but I miss Old Sandy."
By Bob Condron
ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — A fierce and blustery Scottish gale blew through this seaside links Friday at the British Open and kicked some serious golf hiney.
Those who found the lee of the wind took advantage of a very slim scoring window. Those who didn’t made a bee-lin to find body lotion and get it quickly on some chapped backsides.
Wind 150. Golfers zip.
It got so bad during the afternoon that officials stopped play at 2:40 p.m. for an hour and five minutes when gusts measured at 41 mph started blowing golf balls all over the rolling greens of testy and storied St. Andrews, the Old Course.
Five-time champion Tom Watson, playing for perhaps his last time at St. Andrews, posed for a final goodbye wave on the old bridge on No. 18. And almost got blown into the creek it crossed.
Defending champ Stewart Cink said, “It was a battle out there. Seemed like nobody could get it close … or straight. “
The further you got from the protection of the hotels around Nos. 1 and 18, the more the wind blew. The far reaches of the course, from holes 9 to 12, recorded the top gusts.
Ernie Els shot 79. Rory McIlroy, yesterday’s leader with a 63, shot 17 shots higher and posted an 80 … that’s a split end number in football. A speedy wide receiver number for Rory. It could have been a tight end number … 88 or 89. There were so many 78s and 79s it looked like an offensive tackle convention.
All this wind, three-putts, sliced chip shots, off-balance drives, sand blowing into your eyes and bad hair days for everyone … just caused the entire field of about 150 to average more than 6 hours in this second round of The Open.
Competion was stopped at 9:45 p.m. local time with 10 threesomes still on the course.
Six Hours. That’s probably the time equivalent of having a tournament at Patty Jewett Golf Course featuring 150 nuns, truck drivers and elevator operators who have never played golf and are allergic to grass.
Sea gulls were walking.
A man’s kite string broke and almost took his thumb with it.
Darren Clarke sank a 50-foot putt, jumped up and his visor blew off and almost sailed into the bay.
But, you also think … doesn’t it always blow here? What’s different besides having the British Open here during this gale force blow? I’ll bet you can pick out 10 folks at random who work in the shops around here and pay 100 pounds a year to play unlimited golf at this world-class place…and they’ll all say …”Oh laddie, this was a gentle breeze compared to last week. Last week my dog blew away…the whole family looked for him in the gorse. Old Sandy is gone. He just sailed out of here. We’ll miss the old feller.”
But the BBC and ABC don’t cover the local pizza tosser and the guy who runs the pharmacy on South Street in St. Andrews. They don’t cover the women who work at the beauty shop who play at least twice a week and never complain about the wind and weather.
None of these people’s balls blow off the green. Golf goes on.
You have to appreciate these folks. There’s no canceling golf in Scotland. Unless you’re hit upside the head by a flying dog.
Point of View: A lot of golfers on the PGA Tour don’t really follow what our fathers taught us the moment we stepped on the course. Don’t move. Don’t distract the guy getting ready to hit the shot. Be polite. Think of others.
Watching play here in Scotland, in various tournaments around the United States and on TV every week I see guys fidgeting right in front of a guy hitting a shot. Milling about. Looking at the sky, talking with his caddy. Walking to his ball. Singing the blues. Check it out. Seems like all golfers on the PGA Tour start walking before the guy over the ball hits the shot.
Today was the first time I’ve seen one of the pros stop a swing, step back and look at the offender. It was Bubba Watson. One of the members of the threesome started walking right in front of him … during his address. Seconds before Bubba planned to hit the ball 350 yards. Bubba stopped his swing, paused and just looked at him … the guy finally stopped. He let Bubba hit a bad shot, then continued walking towards the far horizon. But, he was French.
St. Vitus Dance: Check out two guys who will drive you nuts. KJ Choi and Jim Furyk.
KJ has started a new kind of putting, seldom seen since Old Tom Morris was pro here at St. Andrews around the turn of the 16th century. He faces the hole, sticks his right foot out, puts the putter beside the foot and hits it like a croquet mallet. But, what sets KJ and Furyk apart is that they do all their preparation. Walking around, studying every break, taking three practice swings…THEN, right when you expect them to putt…they step back…wipe off the putter blade…then go right back and do it again.
It’s like the old Harlem Globetrotters trick of shooting a free throw with an elastic band. They shoot the basketball with the rubber rope, then everybody jumps into the lane and the ball snaps back to the shooter. That’s what KJ and Jim do. Everybody they play with jumps into the lane. Looking stupid. The ball just comes back. If you watch this for 18 holes some doctors think you can get brain damage.
Bob Condron is the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Director of Media Services. He’s at St. Andrews providing notes, quotes and comments to the Independent. And watching out for flying dogs.