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Saturday, August 04, 2007

Scotland - Chapter 4

The Open Championship at Carnoustie
Friday was a big day. We were headed to Carnoustie, the famous location of Jean van de Velde's implosion at the Open. But first, Tubby, Maureen and I rolled out of bed at 6:15am to walk around the corner from the Ardgowan to have a little chat with the starter at the Old Course.

The previous night, we had walked over to the Old Course to soak in the atmosphere, see a couple of the holes up close, and find out if there was any way we could snag a tee time. We took a few pics and asked some golfers who were heading up the 18th fairway in the near dark how they had gotten on the course. They told us that they showed up that evening and were able to use a tee time reserved for locals. We did some more investigating and found out that it is indeed possible to show up around 5pm and tee off in one of the last times of the day if some of the locals failed to show up.

This shred of hope got our juices going. We decided to get up early on Friday and see if we could get on the starter's waiting list. If that didn't work out, we would swing by the starter shack after Carnoustie and vie for a local slot. When we arrived at the starter shack on Friday morning, it was quite cold, and it was raining steadily. The starter showed me that there were thirteen people on the waiting list competing for two open tee times that morning. We had no shot he said, unless we came back that evening. So, our chances were slim, but we decided we would come back after the Open and check the status of the local tee times.

At this point, I figured we would stick to our plan of spending the day at Carnoustie, get back to St. Andrews when we could, and play the Old Course if we were able. We jumped on the 9:30am bus to Carnoustie in full rain gear. The weather forecast was grim, but we were ready.

It took about 50 minutes to get to Carnoustie. The bus dropped us off about two blocks from the entrance to the course, and we sailed in. Amazingly, no one checked our badges at the gate. We hung around the 18th green/17th tee box/16th green area for about 25 minutes and saw John Daly, Ernie Els, and Lucas Glover, among others. Els was going along nicely, and it was obvious that he was going to contend for the title.

Jay Payne taught me a system several years back at Augusta for watching a tournament. You start at the 18th and walk the course in reverse. This way, you can see everyone at some point in their round, and it enables you to scope out all the holes. The system worked well for us. We saw basically every big name player in the world, including Sergio, Tiger, Furyk, and Phil.

The rain and clouds disappeared about mid-morning, so it was a perfect day to watch the tournament. The crowds were well-behaved and much quieter than in America. Aside from walking Carnoustie and seeing the best players in the world do things with a golf ball that I could never do, the highlight of the day was chatting up the players. Few Brits will attempt to do this, but we had no problem getting the attention of several players. We determined that the best way to talk to them is while they are walking after a tee shot or while waiting to hit.

Sara was excited to get Vijay Singh's attention. He was walking up the fairway with his driver in hand, and she yelled, "Go Vijay!" He turned around, looked right at her, and gave her a big smile. I guess he hadn't heard many shouts of encouragement that week. It made her day, as she's a huge fan of the Big Fijian.

She also got a similar reaction from Justin Leonard on the par 3 eighth. I scouted out my opportunities for a little chatter and got some serious reactions from Charley Hoffman, Jonathan Byrd, Boo Weekley, and Duffy Waldorf. Boo and Duffy were the best. Boo was walking up the 13th fairway appearing a bit out of his element. Tubby noticed that he kept looking up to the sky at the TV cranes. I asked Boo if he was chewing Copenhagen, and he was all too happy to chat away. He said, "Well, I brought over about 30 tins of tobbacco for the trip because I didn't want to run out. I just buy the cheap stuff." Then I complimented him on his camoflage outfit, and he smiled and laughed. He continued to talk for close to a minute, and then he needed to hit his shot. He might be a hick, but he's a heck of a nice guy. If he hadn't been playing, I'm sure he would have rambled on forever. We found out later that the Scots really took a liking to him, which was nice to hear.

Duffy Waldorf was also engaging. I asked him how he was doing (forgetting that he was about a zillion over par), and he said he was okay. He was wearing a very tame, light blue sweater with dark pants; it was not the normal Duffy attire. I asked him where his loud golf gear was, and he said, "Nobody sells loud clothing for cold weather. I couldn't find anything else to wear!"

Maureen and Tubby started to get anxious about seeing Tiger. I told them to calm down because he had a 2:20pm tee time, and that we'd see him eventually. I looked at the tee sheet when we were at the 7th hole and noticed that Tiger's group would be playing #6 soon. So, we parked ourselves near the 7th tee in full view of the 6th green and fairway. After a few minutes, the crowds quadrupled in size, so we knew Tiger was coming. We saw him play the second half of #6 and tee off on #7. Tiger had hit his second shot on #6 into the front, left greenside bunker. He took a quick slash at it without even taking a practice swing. His leave was over 30 feet away. He was hopping mad. It's rare to see him take so little time over the ball. He got a disappointing par and exited the green quickly.

After that, we caught up with Monty, Ian Poulter, Ryan Moore, Mike Weir, and others. We made our way out of the tournament a little after 4pm, satisfied that we had worked Jay's system to perfection.

By the time we got on the bus, it was fairly obvious that we weren't going to get back to St. Andrews in time to weasel our way onto the Old Course. The sun was shining, and the locals were out in full force. Still, I talked to the starter, but no dice. Tubby was a bit disappointed, but having no expectations of playing the Old when we planned the trip, I wasn't fazed. Sure, it would have been cool to play it, but the chances of getting on were slim to none.
Maybe the next time we go to Scotland, we can plan ahead for the Old. In person, it's like nothing else I've ever seen. The town of St. Andrews is extremely charming, but the Old Course has a feeling all its own. Thinking we might still get some golf in, Tubs and I took a drive over to Crail and Kingsbarns. We tried to get on Crail, but their starter shack had just closed for the day. It was okay, as we had a big night ahead of us in St. Andrews and one final round to play the next morning. All in all, it was a day to remember.


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