150th Open Championship at St Andrews: Latest news and storylines

Matt Cooper is our man at St Andrews this week, and he’s among those playing on while golf descends into chaos. Do n’t miss his first diary entry from him.

Playing on

There’s absolutely no doubt that the home of golf is a frenzied and excited spot this week. In fact, the auld gray toun actually isn’t very gray at all, as my arrival on Sunday morning proved, because I didn’t walk across the course but along the West Sands from the car park towards the town.

The beach was golden, the sea sparkled, the tall grass swayed in the dunes, St Andrews shimmered in the distance and I frolicked in the surf like the toffs in the opening scenes Chariots of Fire. Well, actually I didn’t do the latter, of course, but there is a very definite sense of everyone being seized by the (minor) mass hysteria of the 150th Open.

Underneath it all, however, I can’t help thinking that something about the week reminds me of the band playing on as the Titanic went down. As if golfers, ex-golfers, officials, agents, the media, marketing folk, corporate partners, hangers-on and fans, are all partying away on the streets of St Andrews, cheerily pretending that the game hasn’t hit an enormous obstruction , that a fatal gash hasn’t opened up with little hope of healing, that the entire structure isn’t about to crack in two, and that LIV Golf isn’t elbowing women and children aside as it leaps feet first into the lifeboats.

Maybe, by the end of the week, Rory McIlroy will find himself in deep water, the Claret Jug floating nearby on a bit of driftwood, and he’ll be pleading with it to never let go.

Near, far, wherever you are, let’s hope this daft game, once merely clattering balls with sticks by the beach and now a worldwide industry, raises itself above the rancour and provides a spectacle for the ages. We promise, Rory, we’re not letting go.

Tiger Feet

My first venture out onto the course involved a little Tiger hunting and, as I’m sure you’ll have seen from footage, the 15-time major champion looks at best awkward and at worst really quite terrible as he hobbles around. But for many of us, of course, this is fresh-ish news. I’m not going to dwell on his problems from him, except to say that Justin Thomas, who played with him on Sunday and has been privy to the entire rehabilitation exercise, was not distracted by the lame shuffle and instead had eyes only for what mattered.

“His swing still looks as good as ever, it really does,” he said. “Would I be surprised if I have challenged this week? No. I’ve learned better than to challenge anything about him.” I’m not saying he will win, but it might be that those close to him have got used to something still shocking to the rest of us.

scottish sherpas

One of my favorite golfing notions is that major championship winners set up a base camp ahead of their triumphs. Consider how mountaineers prepare to ascend Everest – they don’t climb up in one go. Instead, they set up a base camp, test themselves in the thin air, return to base camp, they maybe repeat the exercise once or twice, and then they attack the summit. Golfers often do something similar with contending and winning.

Those climbers also take Sherpas with them to guide the way and golfers have caddies. In the modern game those bag men travel the tours alongside the circus, but this week at least two golfers have opted for the inside knowledge of locals.

Japanese amateur Keita Nakajima has St Andrews local, now relocated to Australia, Ryan Lumsden on the bag, pointing him in the right direction. Perhaps more intriguing is that the team of Will Zalatoris went looking for one of the Old Course’s finest caddies to walk their man around the layout in practice as he seeks to add to his haul of major championship top 10s (and maybe even win).

scott-free

Conflicting info was flying around about Adam Scott at the range. He’s already been in Fife for the best part of a week, playing Crail and Kingsbarns in addition to the Old Course and word is that he’s in great nick.

But he also spent a good part of Sunday in the equipment trucks changing his gear. He has the freedom to do this, having become a free agent at the start of the year, but it seems a peculiar route just days before a major begins.

It’s a tempting one, however, especially for golfers unused to having the golfing equivalent of free sweeties on offer. Trucker veterans have seen plenty of young golfers muck up their hopes by surrendering the gear that earned them a big opportunity in the first place. It’s just slightly odd that this time it was an experienced major winner making that decision.

Cashley Chester

Traveling up the M6 ​​at the weekend I noticed a Porsche showroom and it reminded me of one of the Open’s all-time great transcription mistakes which centered on Englishman Ashley Chesters, who is again in the field this week. Back in 2015 he qualified as the reigning European Amateur champion and played the Old Course in style to finish 12th.

His solid progress prompted questions from the media but it was only when the transcribed words were read that his answers gained wider publicity. Because when he asked what car he drove, he’d replied: “I do have a car, yeah, a Porsche 308. I quite like it, as well. I’m not that big into cars to be honest, so as long as it gets me from A to B, that’s fine.”

A spectacularly blasé line by any golfer, but for a young amateur it seemed especially flippant so caused a minor rumpus, appearing in diaries and across many Twitter timelines. I smelt a rat, however, not least because I’m a friend of a friend of Chesters and, to say the least, the perceived cockiness seemed very unlikely. And, yes, it turned out he wasn’t swanning round the amateur circuit in a high-performance sports car at all. Instead, he had a second-hand … Peugeot.

Of course, the world can sometimes be a wonderful place. Seven years on, Chesters has provided himself a consistent DP World Tour performer but where was his only 36 or 54-hole lead from him? Naturally, it came in the 2017 Porsche European Open.

Golden Slumbers

For the rest of this week I’m staying in the middle of town, at the university halls of residence where William met Kate. But last night I kicked off the week with a night in a tent at the Official FootJoy Open Camping Village, a wonderful facility that makes an absolute mockery of the version I stayed in during the 2010 championship.

That Friday I joked that the wind might blow our tent away and it later emerged that it had done exactly that. You may also recall that I camped last year but whereas one evening I walked the nine miles back there via Charles Hawtrey’s house, this time the tent was the just other side of the Road Hole. A splendid facility with bar, food stalls and a FootJoy fitting service. Top marks to Martin Slumbers (an absurdly perfect name) because I was unaware until this year that he went out of his way to provide this service for youngsters and young families to make a day at the Open affordable.

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