What I Saw in Scotland


ST. ANDREWS – Been here at the Old Course for nearly a week. Here’s a quick rundown of what I’ve seen during my stay at the 'Home of Golf:'

I saw the continuing rise of a truly great young player in Martin Kaymer. With crowds lining the road along 17 and 18 and hanging from their balconies in a timeless scene unique to the Old Course, Kaymer birdied both holes to shoot 66, winning his third straight stroke-play event.

I saw the roiling sea in front of me and the cathedral of St. Andrews to my left in the distance as I walked to the back of the sixth green at the new Castle Course, and thought, “this is one of the prettiest pars I’ve ever made in a nine-hole tussle in which I didn’t make a whole lot.”

I saw just how lucky the locals are here. They pay, get this, roughly $270 per year and that gives them access to all seven golf courses in the St. Andrews Links Trust. Yes, that includes the Old Course.

I saw Chinnaswamy Muniyappa, the 2009 Indian Open champion, hitting balls, one after the next exploding off his club with a rhythmic and powerful swing, and thought, they really are coming from all over the world now.

I saw Samuel L. Jackson go “Pulp Fiction” as a fan badgered him to sign a Star Wars picture as Sam was getting ready to hit balls. “Samuel L, Samuel L, Samuel L,” the guy said over and over. Finally, Samuel L turned and yelled, “I heard you, %^*@#!”  With a sly smile Samuel told me, “They want me to call ‘em that. They’re disappointed if I don’t.”

I saw Neels Els, Ernie’s dad.  He told me his soon-to-be Hall of Fame son had “great ball sense” when he was 4 years old, good enough to have won local tennis tournaments without ever taking a lesson. Neels said that when Ernie won the South Africa Amateur at 16, it was clear that golf would be his calling.

I saw very little sun.

I saw Douglas Montgomerie, Colin’s older brother. To watch his follow through is to know instantly that he is a Montgomerie.

I saw an amazing new book called, “Golf Links of Scotland”, a visual and narrative tribute to the Old Course and the other 18 top links courses in Scotland. With overlays and double-gate folds it’s over 300 pages. There are only 145 being sold and it retails for $4,600. This is a major collector’s item and will stand as a definitive work for a long, long time. With photographs by Ian Macfarlane Lowe and words by George Peper, book details can be found at golflinksofscotland.com.

I saw hedge fund heavyweights and private equity wunderkinds and developers mixing it up with the pros just the way they do at Pebble Beach.

I saw Lee Westwood hit a 3-iron from 158 yards at 13 at the Old Course and come up a bit short.

I saw Rory McIlroy’s dad and we had a laugh. I could see where Rory gets his likable personality. In the words of one of his friends, Rory’s an extraordinary talent but an ordinary guy.

I saw Graeme McDowell with his U.S. Open trophy, Martin Kaymer with his PGA Championship trophy and Monty with the Ryder Cup trophy, together for a photo shoot in front of the R&A. In what may have been Europe’s greatest season, three of the four major winners in 2010, including Louis Oosthuizen, plus five of the top 10 in the world came off the European Tour.

I saw plated meals and white linen every day in the media center with duck and lamb and risotto and all manner of weight gaining delights. Dunhill, with Johann Rupert as the driving force, spares no expense in making this a first-rate event.

I saw a lesson in positive thinking. Manuel del los Santos is one of the best physically challenged golfer in the world, a one-time draft choice of the Toronto Blue Jays who lost his left leg in a motorcycle accident when he was 18. A product of the baseball hotbed of San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic, Manuel was given a copy of the movie, “Legend of Baggar Vance.”  Inspired, he went to the driving range the next day. He’d never played golf. On his fourth shot, he hit it 220 yards. Today he plays to a 3 handicap. I watched him hit balls on the Old Course range and he striped one after the next 260-270 yards, his grip, his plane and his fundamentals absolutely textbook. Swing expert Robert Baker looked on and said the manner in which he clears his hips is extraordinary. Manuel says with a smile, “Golf is my second leg.”

I saw Jean van de Velde and we sat on the steps behind the 18th at the Old Course. He told me the only shot he’d like to have back from the final round of the 1999 Open Championship is the third, the one he hit in the burn. If he had it over again, he’d go sideways to the fairway, pitch on and two-putt for his double and the claret jug. “Why not just tee off with a 7-iron, then hit another 7-iron and a wedge?” I asked him. “No,” he replied emphatically. “It is not in me to do it like that.” He shot 82 the next day at Carnoustie.

I saw the Tip Anderson plaque at the Dunvegan Hotel. Tip caddied for Arnie in his early ‘60s British Open wins and always enjoyed a drink at the Dunvegan after a long day looping on the links. Arnie liked Tip so much he wanted to bring him back to the States but Tip wouldn’t get on a plane or a boat. When Tip died in ’04 Arnie couldn’t make the funeral. He sent flowers with a card that read, “Good bye old friend.” That inscription is on a small plaque on the wall where Tip used to sit at the Dunvegan. When Arnold returned for an appearance this past summer at the Open Championship, he walked into the Dunvegan and asked, “Where’s Tip’s seat?” The King sat down and raised a glass to his old friend.

I saw Lee Westwood’s agent, Chubby Chandler, and he explained how Lee will approach the majors in 2011. He’ll take as much as three weeks off and work out at his home gym in England before coming to the U.S. for a one tournament tune up prior to the major.

I saw Shakespearean prose in the Scottish sports sections, passages like this from Graeme Hamlett writing about a Monty comeback in the Sunday Express: “No one takes pleasure in seeing a once great sportsman railing against the dying light of his talents, fighting forlornly to prove he still has it when the ravages of age provide evidence to usurp that belief.”

I saw an 8-iron of mine reasonably well struck from 100 yards die in a 30-mile-per-hour wind 15 yards short of the green. Links golf is so different, so much more rugged with head-down walks into whistling winds and a bag on your shoulder, with hard pan fairways and moon-like landscapes, with knockdown draws and punch cuts and battles with the elements and a hundred other twists on the game.

I saw an airplane that was set to take me home to Florida where it’s 80 degrees and not 45, and was thankful that an immensely satisfying two weeks in the U.K. has come to an end.