Call it St. Andrews but the thing about this course is there are plenty of un-saintly places a player could end up. The bunkers have names like Strath, Hell, Coffin and the Road Hole Bunker. There is even a Valley of Sin awaiting on the final hole. All of these cleverly placed obstacles extracted their toll on the field of the 144th Open Championship.
When Louie Oosthuizen let his eight footer for birdie and a chance to play even more holes catch less cup than required, it was finally over. Extra days, extra holes, more excitement and potentially a shot at history all came to a close after a four-hole playoff on the eighteenth green at the Old Course. The other Johnson, shorter in stature but bigger in heart earned the right to caress the Claret Jug on his way home to Cedar Rapids.
In a week that serves as a test for all-weather gear, this championship gave the field a grueling examination. It even blew the players off the course for the resumption of the second round forcing them to retire to their retreats in the Auld Grey Toon until the golf ball stood still. Once fifty-four holes had been recorded and an extra day added the links invited everyone to gear up for what seemed like a fifth round. Accumulate as many birdies as possible on the outward swing then punish players as they headed home on Monday served as the montra. Commentators spoke of the heavy wind and Monday’s buffeted the scores like a palm tree in a hurricane. In golf there is no dugout in which to hide or a locker room to return to at halftime. You have to step up and play the shot when it’s your turn regardless of the weather and how you feel. The Open tests every aspect of a player, as it should.
The week of good-byes started with a hello on Wednesday from the King as Arnold Palmer showed up for the festivities during the Champion Golfers Challenge. Maybe it served as an unlucky omen for Jordan Spieth. History tells of Palmer occupying the same position winning the year’s first two majors only to fall short to Kel Nagle and thus end any thoughts of a modern day grand slam. Spieth got tantalizingly close but too much spin sent his chances to the Valley of Sin and from there you know nothing good happens.
Tom Watson completed his final tour around St Andrews on time — barely. Appropriately as the sun set over the Old Course so too did Watson’s career of competing in Open Championships. In the dusk with flashbulbs popping and patrons paying their respects to the five time champion, Watson acknowledged the moment soon to be a memory by confessing he finished “like a hack.” We should all wish to hack it around like that at age sixty-five.
Peter Dawson and Ivor Robson are also bowing out of one of golf’s greatest shows. Both men, their distinctive voices announcing “The Champion Golfer of the Year” or “This is game number 32, on the tee from USA, Zach Johnson” are now added to a very rich history that has spanned 144 championships. I’ll miss waking up early in the morning starting next year and not hearing Robson serenade the players before their opening tee shot.
This Open indeed defined the term. With the early Monday round packed full of noted players and a few surprise amateurs, the march up the leaderboard looked more like a sprint. Garcia, Harrington, Scott, Day, Spieth, Oosthuizen, Leishman, and Willett made the game look easy in the breeze and the squalls. In a juxtaposition of D. Johnson versus Z. Johnson the former played a splendid first thirty-six holes only to disappear into the gloom going out in both the third and fourth rounds. Zach played better in the last half of the tournament which is usually when it counts the most. The Wee Mon reflected perhaps a bit of Hogan’s Wee Ice Mon personna down the stretch on Monday. Johnson never gave up, gave in or gave a damn about who was chasing him. Turning back into the wind he kept his head down and his ball under control. When destiny looked him square in the face on the eighteenth green at the end of regulation he answered loudly with a definitive stroke. It was a bold effort, the effort of a champion. He carried that precise play into the playoff with birdies on the first two holes ultimately dodging one last attempt by lil’ Louie.
Briefly the summary of the 144th Open Championship might read like this:
Tiger hits it like a champion on the range, like a dog on the links. Dustin Johnson would have won had this been a two day Member-Guest Invite. O’Meara and Langer hang around for an extended weekend, both finishing at +1. David Duval, minus fifty pounds, makes a run at getting out of the broadcast booth and back on the fairways. Phil the Thrill wishes he could’ve signed his card after the 16th hole on Monday. Sergio, Scott and Harrington kept it interesting the final round but ultimately were sabotaged by St. Andrews. John Daly missed the cut by one and again failed to show up for the Champions photograph. Dottie Pepper might thaw out by August. Curtis Strange was too busy watching the Monday dram instead of reporting it. The grandstand behind the eighteenth green was imposing. Amateur golf is in great hands with several young guns showing they’re ready to compete now. Just don’t ask me to spell there names. The 17th hole may be the most diabolical par four in golf. Certainly someone will replicate the hole at some new venture in the next few years. Finally, even if you don’t play the game wouldn’t it be neat to visit St. Andrews just to walk across the Swilcan Bridge?
Put this third major of 2015 in the books. It ranks as the most entertaining so far. Great golf, playoff, elements, soft and green as opposed to brown and fast, a deserving champion and an opportunity to show the world that St. Andrews is home to both saints and sinners on and off the golf course. Four days just simply wasn’t enough time to tell this story.