Every year the phone conversation gets more and more awkward as I attempt to answer seemingly innocuous questions while resisting the urge to scream, “HA HA!”
Yes, Dad, I’m heading overseas for the Open Championship.
Yes, I’m planning to bring my clubs and play lots of golf.
Yes, I realize this is a once-in-a-lifetime buddies trip that seems to happen every year.
And no, I am not even the least bit sorry.
How much do I love the year’s third major? If I were trapped in the cube farm for 51 weeks a year but allowed to roam free only during the British Open, it’d totally be worth it. It’s my favorite trip/tournament/week on the golf calendar, and it’s not particularly close.
• The flight. It’s about nine hours from Orlando, Fla., to, say, Edinburgh, Scotland, which means that I can finally get caught up on all of the movies that a) my wife has no interest in seeing, b) I didn’t want to pay $11.50 to see in theaters, or c) I missed as a sheltered kid. Yes, I once got disturbingly ill on a flight to London after eating chicken curry, but that’s why I now choose conservatively with the pasta entree.
• The food. Question: In what alternate universe can you gorge on fish and chips and guzzle warm Guinness for 10 consecutive days, gain eight pounds along the way and not feel the slightest bit guilty? Answer: Our British Open trip!
• The camaraderie. Seriously, you’d be hard-pressed to find something more enjoyable than joining two pals for 108 holes on world-class golf courses, then kicking back in the clubhouse for a pint while talking about life and the game we love.
• The accommodations. Um, there’s a reason why you’ve never heard of the Ritz-Carlton in Wirral, England: It doesn’t exist. Instead, the Golf Channel Digital team shacks up in cozy B&Bs without air conditioning, HBO or any space between the two twin mattresses. Never has your 600-square-foot apartment seemed so massive.
• The weather. Don’t even bother checking the forecast. The very last article of clothing I packed two years ago was a pair of shorts – you know, just in case. I wound up showing plenty of skin during one of the best weather weeks the locals could ever remember. I tried my luck again this year, and sure enough I wore shorts seven of the 10 days we were in England. Even better, I saw rain for a total of two hours. All of which means I’m preparing for a deluge at St. Andrews.
• The history. Stand on the tee of the “Postage Stamp” hole at Royal Troon in a 35-mph wind and wonder how anyone could hit that tiny green, let alone make an ace like Gene Sarazen did in ’73. Throw down a ball near the plaque in the 18th fairway at Turnberry and hit the approach shot that could have won Tom Watson the Open in ’09. Line up the 15-foot putt on Royal Lytham’s 18th green that Adam Scott needed to make in ’12 to avoid one of the worst collapses in Open history. I’ve hit all of those shots, and more, in just the past two years.
• The golf. This past year, when the Open was held at Royal Liverpool, we snuck in quick visits to Wallasey, Royal Birkdale, Hesketh, Fairhaven, Royal Lytham and Hillside. Unlike the classic American venues that are big and brawny with plenty of forced carries, these famed links favor the thinker, not the thumper. Twice we squeezed 36 holes in a day, which meant our faces were red from the wind, our feet hurt like hell and our backs were wound tighter than a balata ball. Boy, was it incredible.
And all of this, remember, comes before the Open Championship, the most compelling tournament of the year. The Masters has its mystique and back-nine drama, the U.S. Open has its punch-you-in-the-gut ethos, but no major requires more creativity and smarts than the Open Championship.
Only 198 days remain until our next British Open trip. But really, Dad, who’s counting?