ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Arnold Palmer gazed out the window from Russacks Hotel on Wednesday morning and felt the clock turn back a half century. He saw the people walking toward the Old Course, mowers preparing St. Andrews for practice, the expanse of a golf course with all its humps and mounds.
The King grew emotional talking about it later, and he had every right.
The British Open might not be what it is today without Palmer. The U.S. turned into a golfing power after World War II, yet few Americans bothered to play golf’s oldest championship – partly because links golf was foreign to them and the prize money couldn’t offset travel costs.
Palmer, who raised golf’s profile in his own country, was determined to play.
“I felt that if you were going to be a champion, you couldn’t be a champion without playing in the Open and hopefully winning the Open,” he said. “So that was part of the whole program for what I was doing.”
Palmer won the Masters and U.S. Open in 1960. On his way to St. Andrews for his first British Open, a conversation with sports writer Bob Drum led Palmer to effectively create the modern version of the Grand Slam.
He finished one shot behind Kel Nagle. Palmer won his claret jugs at Royal Birkdale in 1961 and Royal Troon in 1962.
Even so, St. Andrews remains a big part of his life. Palmer was given an honorary degree at St. Andrews University on Tuesday. The only disappointment was not getting to play in the “Champions’ Challenge” because of bad weather Wednesday.
That brought back memories, too.
“It’s normal,” he said, referring to the wind and rain. “In 1960 – that’s the one thing that’s the same – the weather was just like it is now on one of the days of that championship. The wind blew, it rained. I said something about it then, and got the same answer. ‘Hey, this is Scotland. You’ve got to expect it.’ And I loved it.”
The love affair continues.
Looking out his hotel window, he said, “I saw all the things that I saw and I thought about in 1960.
“I suppose most of the week when I came here the first time, I didn’t understand well enough to respect the kind of golf that I was going to have to play to do good in the Open Championship, whether it was here or somewhere else. I didn’t appreciate what I was playing on in 1960.
“It took me a while to begin to understand what this golf course and what European golf and what the links golf was really all about. So it was quite a thrill.”
CINK AND THE CLARET JUG: Stewart Cink returned the claret jug that he won last year at Turnberry, and he made sure it was clean. That took more work than it might have for other past champions.
The first drink poured from the jug was Guinness.
Then there was some fine wine for Cink and his wife, soda for his sons, even barbecue sauce. Turns out he used the jug to hold the sauce during a Fourth of July cookout at home in Georgia.
Cink has more than 1.2 million followers on Twitter, and he thinks that helped create the idea there was never a dull moment with golf’s oldest trophy.
“It was really busy for the first two months or so, and then it sat in the house different places, got moved around,” Cink said. “The kids decided where it went sometimes. I realize now how much attention it draws everywhere around the world. We definitely put it to good use, and it was an honor to be in possession of it.”
Cink thought it was clean when he loaded it up to bring to Ireland (last week) and Scotland. His friend cleaned out the barbecue sauce after the holiday.
“But when I went and put it in the case, I noticed on the flight over to Dublin that some of it leaked out,” he said. “So I went and investigated and found that there was still sauce inside that had to be cleaned out. I went and cleaned it in Dublin and got it nice and fresh and shined the outside. It was in fit condition when it went back.”
TIGER TALK: Top officials from the first two majors this year have criticized Tiger Woods.
That hasn’t been the case at the British Open – so far.
Masters chairman Billy Payne made news in April for publicly taking Woods to task for his rampant affairs and not fulfilling his responsibility as a role model. “It is the fact that he disappointed all of us, and more importantly, our kids and our grandkids,” Payne said. “Our hero did not live up to the expectations of the role model we saw for our children.”
At the U.S. Open last month, USGA executive director David Fay chided Woods for complaining about the greens at Pebble Beach. Fay said Woods was wrong for saying the greens were awful, then tweaked him by adding, “I think two players used the word awful. Phil (Mickelson) said he putted awful. Tiger said the greens were awful.”
Royal and Ancient chief executive Peter Dawson has kept his thoughts to himself, saying only that he is glad Woods is playing and that he hopes he finds his game at St. Andrews.
Asked if he shared Payne’s sentiments, Dawson said: “Well, you notice we haven’t made such a statement. So I’ll just leave that one there.”
Pressed further, Dawson said, “I think Tiger regrets many of the things of the past and, as he’s said, he is trying to put them right. And I believe he is doing it and I believe he’s succeeding, actually.”
ROAD HOLE: The infamous Road Hole – No. 17 – is not what it was when players arrived at St. Andrews.
For one thing, the Royal and Ancient agreed that it was odd to have out-of-bounds stakes to the right of the 16th green, only for players to tee off on the 17th from about the same spot.
So, the out-of-bounds stakes are no longer there, effectively changing the boundaries on the Old Course.
And that’s not all.
R&A chief executive Peter Dawson was surprised to see the grass get so lush and dense left of the fairway. Any tee shot that goes into that rough will make it virtually impossible for the next shot to reach the green.
On Wednesday, the R&A decided to mow about three yards into the rough, created a second cut, which might slow down a ball that is rolling into the thick stuff.
“The rough that thickened up in the last few days is a very unusual occurrence around here at this time of the year,” Dawson said. “It’s usually thinning out. So we’ve put that second cut in.”
TV DEAL: The Royal and Ancient has signed a new five-year deal with the BBC to broadcast the British Open through 2016.
Chief executive Peter Dawson often is asked why he doesn’t negotiate with a satellite broadcaster, such as Sky Sports, which might be more financially rewarding to the organization.
Dawson said he was satisfied with the deal, without getting into numbers, and considered it important to reach a greater audience in Britain with a traditional network.
“When you’re spending a large amount of the commercial success in the Open in developing the game, it’s hardly consistent to then show the Open to a restricted audience,” Dawson said.
This year’s championship will be the first to be broadcast in High Definition.
BETTER THAN HAGGIS? Thai golfer Thongchai Jaidee may be a long way from home, but not from comfort food.
For several years now, the world’s 50th-ranked player has dined often enough at Nahm-Jim, a local Thai restaurant, to have a special named in his honor.
The “Thongchai Jaidee” is a two-person, three-course sampling of traditional dishes currently going for 24.95 pounds ( $38.21 USD). Considerably better tasting than haggis (sheep organs and oatmeal), the unofficial national dish of Scotland, the menu entry suggests any customer who eats the Jaidee special may soon be able to hit the golf ball as well as he does.