We never went to the British Open. I figured it was due to the expense and logistics. Later I realized that my father didn't want to unleash a horde of American teenagers on his beloved Scotland. William Wallace himself would have had a difficult time with our group. Instead I had to earn my trip to the land of the treeless golf courses, where they serve ice in your milk, not your soda.
In 1985 I was working for ABC Sports and had been assigned to the British Open at Royal St. Georges. When I finally got to the course I was struck by the scope of the event. The tented village was the largest merchandise area I'd ever seen by 10 times. There were at least twice as many spectators as any Major Championship in the U.S., and the gallery was amazingly well behaved and knowledgeable. The ancient feeling of the game and its origins were ever present. The claret jug was on display in the tented village right beside some of the crown jewels. Its list of champions was so long and distinguished I had to agree with my father's assessment: the U.S. Open is our national championship, the British Open is the world championship.
It was there that the name changed for me. The Open Championship is indeed the most important championship in the world. It is the oldest most storied event played over the oldest most traditional venues. Kids from all over our country dream of winning the U.S. Open. Kids from all over the world dream of winning The Open Championship. In a land where golf is taken very seriously and the values off the course more closely mirror values on the course, an Open Champion is afforded a very special status. It isn't the fawning idolatry given to sports stars in our country, rather a respectful nod to a very public achievement.
I went to a number of Open Championships after that. The ones in Scotland were by far my favorite. Watching the greatest players in the world battle themselves, the course and the elements is always thrilling. But walking among the lifelong golf fans, smelling the sea air and straw, and soaking up golf tournament action as it's been played for 140 years was the reward for enduring tiny hotel rooms, jet lag and endless queues.
Much later, my father told me that when he first arrived in Scotland he felt like he was home. If I hadn't been to those Open Championships I might have found that thought odd, coming from a Texan. Yet, I grew up in Manhattan, surrounded by concrete and noise, far removed from the links land and I know how I feel when I go to Scotland, or an Open Championship. It's the way any real friend of the game feels. I'm home again.
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