Monday, July 17, 2006

Ah, the British Open

I was finally getting okay with the fact that I'm not covering the British Open this year -- my favorite tournanent of the year, hands down -- when the phone rang Sunday night. It was Ed Sherman, golf scribe for the Chicago Tribune and one of three other writers I always share a house with at the British.He was calling from O'Hare Airport as he was about to board the flight to Manchester, England.

"We're playing Royal Birkdale tomorrow," he said.

I groaned. "Thanks, I needed to hear that," I said, immediately falling into a self-pitying funk that will last all week.

A post-flight round of golf is part of our routine after the overnight flight; it's the best way we've found to get your body clock get in sync with the five-hour time difference, when the natural inclination is to crash into the nearest bed immediately.

Once we land and locate each other in the airport, we head to the best course we can get on (within a reasonable driving distance) and play golf til we drop. The only downside is that those times I didn't sleep so much as a wink on the flight, I ended up sleep-walking my way through a round on a great course (Royal Lytham comes to mind).

The Masters, the U.S. Open, the PGA, they're all great. But the British Open has been my personal favorite since the first one I ever covered, coincidentally, at Royal Birkdale in Southport, England in 1998. Mark O'Meara won in a play-off against Brian Watts.

What's so great about the British?

Everything. If you're a golfer and you don't get chill bumps at the Open Championship, as they call it, you don't have a sense of golf history and you may not have a pulse. It applies every year, but it was truest of all last year when the Open was at St. Andrews.

The golf is special, obviously. But what appeals to me even more is everything else that goes along with the Open. Unlike so many tournaments in the U.S., the British Open tends to be played in small towns, even villages (Carnoustie, St. Andrews, Southport, Muirfield, Sandwich), which often feel like American towns must have felt 100 years ago. I spend hours walking the streets, popping into little corner shops, bistros and bakeries, snapping pictures as I go.

More later.

No comments: