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|| News Item: Posted 2002-07-31

Golf in the (Cold, Wet) Kingdom
Musings of an Open Championship Rookie

By Darren Carroll

Please don't call it the British Open.

For God's sake, man, it's the Open Championship.

We call our open (lower-case, mind you) the U.S. Open to distinguish it from its older, more stately and, well, (now that I've finally been to both, I can honestly say) just darned better, counterpart across the pond. There's only one Open. It needs no modifier, because it has no peer.

Not that the USGA (that's the United States Golf Association, for you gearheads and NBA fans out there) didn't try to make the two indistinguishable this year. It picked a devilish, strategy-intensive golf course to play on.

It took Bethpage Black and let the rough grow to knee-height. It even arranged for (the USGA can arrange for things like this, you know, despite what scientists, meteorologists, and other unbelievers might say) a day of wind and rain and general misery. But what it couldn't do - never in a million years - was bring Scotland to the States.

No way. It just wouldn't work; we couldn't handle it. We Americans are spoiled rotten. For starters, we're far too wedded to showerheads with actual water pressure. Likewise, we like sinks that have hot and cold water running out of the same tap.

Last I checked my kitchen had a coffee maker in it, not a teapot. Gimme a mattress with a box spring underneath it any day.

Golf in the rain? You must be joking. Where's the beer cart-girl, anyway?

By the way, it's July. Where's the sun? And isn't it supposed to get dark at night, say, before 10:30?

Can you imagine a "roundabout" in the middle of an interstate highway? And above all, permit me to quote the most famous judicial edict of Judge Elihu Smails: "PUT THAT STEERING WHEEL BACK WHERE IT BELONGS!"

Sheesh. How decidedly, and wonderfully, un-American Scotland is.

Which makes it absolutely perfect for the Open.

Before I go on, let me state from the outset that I have no intention of appearing critical. Far from it. The Open, I've decided, isn't just a golf tournament. It's an experience.

One doesn't go to The Open to merely cover a golf tournament; one goes to cover THE Golf Tournament-in the place where it all started, on the course it was meant to be played, in conditions that would send country clubbers racing to the Men's Grill.

Everything-from the incredible course to the questionable creature comforts of housing to the weather-must be taken together to appreciate it. If it sounds like I'm complaining, you misunderstand me; thanks to Sports Shooter, Chris Covatta may never be permitted to set foot in Canada again. But to Scotland and The Open, I beg: take me back, if only once a year. The Open is a package deal and it's a deal that's well worth it. Just don't make me change planes at Heathrow ever again.

I'll gladly pack a suitcase full of sweaters and turtlenecks in July. I'll awaken to the cacophony of hundred-year-old pipes moaning as a house-mate showers at 6 a.m. I'll drive myself crazy (quite literally) trying to stay on the right-err, left-side of the road, and I'll spend more time deciphering road signs than I do clues in the New York Times crossword puzzle.

I'd been to Scotland once before, and arrived with memories of two things: golfing in the rain, and Belhaven beer. To cancel out the singing plumbing, our rental house, 10 minutes down the road in North Berwick, counted among its major attributes a pub right across the street. While I can't say much about the food (can anyone say much about the food in Scotland?), It was nice to taste a Belhaven again. And again. And again.

As for golf in the rain, well, let's just say it's different over there. Rain, like golf, is just a normal part of life. There are no rain delays, like there are on the PGA Tour. When it rains, you open the umbrella, dry off the grips on your clubs, put your head down, and gut it out. Fortunately for us, the first two days brought none of the typical Scottish weather. A little mist here, a stiff breeze there, but none of the cold, driving rain that the Open is known for.

But I was ready for it if it arrived. After Friday's little swim meet at Bethpage during the U.S. Open, I'd returned home to Austin with a singularity of purpose, and a new mission in life: to get my butt to REI and buy some Gore-Tex. And buy I did. Pants. Shoes. Jacket. Underwear (okay, not really). And I went one further: after reading Robert Beck's article on Aquatech Sports Shields in a previous issue of Sports Shooter, and seeing them up close at both the Masters and the U.S. Open, I e-mailed the folks at Aquatech and ordered a couple of them.

After finishing my Gore-Tex shopping spree, I joked with Golf Digest photo uber-boss Matt Ginella that, knowing my luck, I'd just bought us four days of sunshine at the Open. Matt said he'd make me a deal: if we had four days of sunshine, he'd pay for half of my new rain gear. Matt's a smart guy. He knew he'd just made a bet he couldn't lose.

On Saturday, Matt won, and he won decisively. It was cold. It was wet. It was windy. It was, in a word, Scottish. And that was during the calm before the storm. "Aye," said a course marshal to me on the first green as we waited, wind-burned, wet, and getting wetter, for Tiger's group, "it may blow a wee bit yet today." It turns out that that was the Scottish version of one of Bill Murray's lines in Caddyshack: "I'd keep playing. I don't think the heavy stuff's gonna come down for a while."

At one point, it was raining sideways. Later on, it was raining sideways again, only this time in the other direction. Bethpage on Friday? Oh, puh-leeze. It had absolutely nothing on Muirfield on Saturday. Better yet, Saturday was my day with Tiger. Rather than watching in disbelief as Tiger went low in the rain, as he had at Bethpage, I was treated to a duffer's hack-fest, with Eldrick T. Woods spending about as much time in the tall stuff ("the wispy," as they call it over there) as us poor slobs who had to keep within an arms length of the ropes. But the AquaTech covers worked like a charm. All I had to do was remember to keep the front elements of my lenses turned downwind, and my gear stayed dry. Breaking everything down at the end of the day, there was not a single drop of water on either lens barrel. I was, quite frankly, amazed.

The only problem arose changing film. I keep my film in neoprene Zing pouches, and tuck those under my jacket to keep them dry. But nothing can guarantee that you'll keep your film dry while changing it. Your hands are wet. The wind is blowing. It's the only time you're truly vulnerable, so you try to minimize your film changes. Through 16 holes, I'd shot exactly three rolls of film on my main camera-not because there was nothing to shoot, but because where I'd normally let the motor go on a 10-frame rampage on a sunny day, I was carefully firing one frame, maybe two. The less you need to open that camera back, the better.

I'd made it through seventeen holes when it happened. Mark O'Meara raised his fist in the air as he sank a putt. I pushed the shutter button. Clunk. Not Click. Clunk. Then nothing. No motor drive. No shutter, no LCD, no rewind. Switch batteries. Nope. Nothing. The battery indicator on the camera is flashing a knowing, mocking wink at me. I was screwed.

I couldn't change cameras, as the raincover-removal process is a little too complex to do in such a short period of time-and outdoors in the rain. I was now holding a very expensive (but very dry!) brick-on-a-monopod. So I walked up 18 with Tiger, shooting scenics on the 70-200 and muttering obscenities under my breath the whole way, and made a beeline for the Nikon desk in the press tent.

"The Nikon desk?" you say? "What's a Canon guy doing going to the Nikon Pro Services desk?"

Well, when the CPS office nearest to Gullane, Scotland, is 3500 miles to the west in Lake Success, NY, USA, a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do.

Thanks to the great folks at NPS, who were kind enough to lend this Canon guy a changing bag, I was able to retrieve the roll of film from the camera. It didn't matter, of course. As it turned out, it was ruined.

Pulling my camera out of the changing bag, and able to open the back for the first time, I was able to diagnose the problem: the shutter had exploded. Yep. The infamous 1-V shutter strikes again. Before sounding the death rattle, the shutter had broken up just enough as to render the previous two rolls worthless as well, Matt informed me later.

Despite the rain gear, despite the preparation, despite the minimal "open back" time, I had one roll out of four on Tiger from Saturday, the day he-Tiger Woods!-- shot an 81, his worst-ever score as a professional. One-for-four. That's gotta be close to the Mendoza line, I think. That's not good.

Do they have "Murphy's Law" in Scotland? Perhaps they call it "Murray's Law" instead? And does anybody have a Nikon catalog they can spare?

(Quick side-note to Canon: Was it Woody Allen who once said that 90% of life is just showing up? What does the "P" in "CPS" stand for, anyway? For that matter, how about the "S"? The Open is only THE BIGGEST FRIGGIN' GOLF TOURNAMENT ON THAT SIDE OF THE ATLANTIC! Knock knocks knock. Hellooooooo? Anybody home?)

Sunday was absolutely gorgeous. With barely a cloud in the sky, it seemed the weather was our reward for getting through Saturday. And the finish couldn't have been better: Tiger was out of the picture (see above), Ernie Els was working on blowing a two-shot lead, and unknowns and also-rans were coming out of the woodwork to force a four-way playoff that would finish in the soft, stunning, early-evening light only found in that part of the world.

Leaving the press tent that night with Golf Digest staff photographer Dom Furore, I asked if he would mind if we walked down the first fairway for a bit as we walked to our cars. I didn't want to leave, and wanted one more chance to take it all in.

Monday brought me back to an unfortunate and abrupt reality. I thought I'd done all the walking I could over the weekend. Then I had to get from my British Airways flight from Edinburgh to London to my American Airlines flight from London to Chicago.

The British have designed a peculiar punishment for those not flying British Airways for their transatlantic connections: its called Heathrow. It's a death march of sorts, from one end of Terminal 1 to the other, followed by a bus ride to the entirely wrong end of Terminal 3. The only way to get to your flight once inside Terminal 3? You guessed it. "After leaving the bus, the walk to your gate will be approximately twenty minutes," chimed the cheerful, automated female voice on the bus.

I was waiting for the "Phhhhhhhhhhhhhhhppppphhht" or "Nya nya nya nya nya!" that was sure to follow. It was all I could do to keep from putting a fist through the speaker. Things, it seemed, were unfortunately returning to normal. O'Hare was a mess, with my connecting flight home showing a 90-minute delay. We landed in Austin just after midnight. For the first time all day, I cracked a smile when I saw my wife, Nell, waiting at the airport to take me home. I plopped down in our car's passenger seat, exhausted. And pleased as punch not to see a steering wheel in front of me.

(Darren Carroll is an Austin-based freelancer who is obviously spoiled by his regular beat, the PGA Tour-and his regular airport, DFW.)

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