SANDWICH, England – There is an iconic line from the cult classic movie “The Princess Bride,” when lovable antagonist Inigo Montoya asks the masked Dread Pirate Roberts for his identity.
“No one of any consequence,” Roberts smiles.
“I must know,” Montoya presses.
“Get used to disappointment,” Roberts deadpans.
Golf fans far and wide should take a cue this week from the masked pirate when they huddle in around flat screens to watch the proceedings, hope for the best, prepare for the worst. In this case the worst is any number of little-known tour types who turned up at Royal St. George’s. Names filled with vowels that your off-the-shelf golf fan couldn’t pick out of a lineup if you spotted them a first name and middle initial.
It’s difficult on the eve of the year’s third major to go all claret jug half-empty, but the truth and the tea leaves suggest an outcome this week as bleak as the skies that hang low over the south coast of England.
Consider history, both recent and otherwise.
With apologies to Louis Oosthuizen, last year’s surprise champion golfer at St. Andrews and perhaps the most understated man to ever lift golf’s oldest keepsake, he is the square peg in the round hole that is the Old Course.
As a general rule, the ancient links adjacent the Auld Grey Toon doesn’t yield to one-hit-wonders or one-offs, and yet the golf world spent championship Sunday last year trying to pronounce WUST-haze-un.
Perhaps Louis the farmer goes on to become Louis the great, not that any major champion is required to validate, but if one is scoring at home the South African’s victory was not exactly the stuff of legend.
Nor was Ben Curtis’ victory here at Royal St. George’s in 2003 straight out of central casting. Curtis is as nice a fellow as one could meet, devoted family man, multiple winner on the PGA Tour, but by any definition his British breakthrough, in his first major championship no less, was best dubbed quirky.
But then “fluky” champions aren't out of the norm at St. George’s, which hosted the first Open Championship played in England in 1894. Bill Rogers, anyone?
Whether this phenomenon is the byproduct of a particularly quirky course or simply bad luck is a pub debate without end. St. George’s status within the Open rotation as an acquired taste, however, requires much less deliberation, at least for those who make a living on its lunar-like fairways.
“I would say it's a bit of a fiddly golf course,” Adam Scott said earlier this month at the AT&T National. “You know, a lot like those old courses that they've built over there. They were built so long ago, and the game has changed so much since they were built, it's kind of – you've got to just manage yourself around it like all the other great links courses.
“It's not my personal favorite, no.”
Links golf, as a rule, is capricious, but St. George’s peaks and valleys seem to deal out more than their share of haphazard results.
As he eased down the third fairway on Wednesday Davis Love III, a 25-time Open participant who finished fourth in 2003, was rolling with St. George’s rolling punches like an Open rookie.
“We were playing yesterday and (Jim Furyk), who had been about 20 yards behind us all day, hit this drive that was 60 yards ahead of me and Lucas (Glover),” Love gushed. “You’re like, what did he hit?”
There will be no shortage of similar St. George’s moments this week. To be fair, as Lee Westwood pointed out, there is also the occasional “good” bounce to go along with all that caroming calamity, just not for those marquee names that everyone expects to see hoisting the claret jug on Sunday.
At this stage of the season it’s difficult to imagine golf’s luck holding up, what with Tiger Woods’ injury-induced hiatus and Phil Mickelson’s prolonged slump. All total, the top 5 in the Official World Golf Ranking have won a combined two major championships. Despite Luke Donald’s victory at last week’s Scottish Open, there is still a “No. 1-by-committee” feel to the game and at 22 years old it may be asking too much of Rory McIlroy to continue his inspiring march, although a second consecutive major for the Ulsterman would certainly qualify as a keeper.
The U.S. Open gave us history, The Masters delivered a historic Sunday. Similar histrionics almost seem too much to ask of hapless St. George’s.
On Wednesday, Royal & Ancient Golf Club chief executive Peter Dawson raved about St. George’s saying, “This is very firmly on the list of courses we use for the Open Championship.”
Good news for southeast England, not so much for those who find the parched and pitched turf a tad too whimsical for the game’s oldest championship.
“We’re all pretty spoiled, and when we hit it down the middle of the fairway we expect it to be in the middle of the fairway, but that's not how golf works over there,” Scott said. “So that's why we're saying these things. But we're all going to have to deal with the same things.”
In short, like Inigo Montoya, players and golf fans alike should get used to disappointment.