As things transpired Europe played very well that year and we won. The ritual at the opening and closing ceremonies is for two players — a Euro and an American — to enter side by side with their wives or partners to the outside to them. Obviously that week I didn’t have a partner.
Ian and Phil missed a couple of greens in the same spot and both got ’em down with unbelievable shots. We’re walking up to 18 and I said to Ian while Phil was walking a little ahead of us ‘I don’t know I might take you over Phil in a short game you know?’ He kind of laughs and goes ‘I don’t know about that.’
When I spotted a caddie on Carnoustie’s 4th tee box all alone Tuesday evening I was reminded of that again. There was Martyn Thompson charting the course for Rhys Enoch the (now) 412th-ranked player in the world. It was 6 p.m. local time and Thompson held a 58-degree wedge.
One time David lost and Phil said to him ‘Don’t worry you can pay me when you turn pro.’ One Friday at the Farmers Insurance Open the weather was just horrible. Cold blowy sideways rain. Phil made a mess of his last hole on Friday and missed the cut. Saturday’s weather was no better.
As Mike was lining up his putt I became aware of a presence on the edge of the green a gent watching us intently. Gulp. Johnny Law? Still nothing was keeping me from consummating the hole. I stroked in a left-edge bender for one of the most satisfying pars of my life.
It was ’round midnight when dinner adjourned. There was never any doubt of the next stop: the 18th tee of the Old Course. We parked on The Links road and walked briskly across the ancient sod.
As we walked up the fairway my new friend was an open book. Thompson who teaches in central England just so happened to make the cut on the number at the 1999 Open at Carnoustie when it was dubbed Car-Nasty. To play four days at an Open he admits is a feat. (He’d help Enoch make the cut too. On the number because of course.)
I thought Well at least he can have a day off be inside warm and dry. The next thing I heard was that Phil and Keegan Bradley were playing on that Saturday at Phil’s home course The Bridges in a cold rain. As I heard it Phil took him. He seems to come out on top a lot. But the point really is that Phil has to play. Golf is in Phil’s blood.”
That was the first time I met Thompson. The second time came five days later. He was seated on a curb with a sharpie and British Open flag in hand. Throughout the week he had snagged an autograph from every Open champion on the property.
Charlie Golfer completely overwhelmed was speech-less for several seconds. He then enthusiastically related that his family was doing great spun around and left with his chest puffed out telling his friends ‘See? I told you he was the nicest guy ever. And he’s got a helluva memory!”
One half of me thought “Leave him alone. Let the man do his job.” The other half said “Damn it ask him about Carnoustie’s wicked-fast fairways!” Curiosity may have killed the cat but it nurtured our convo.
So we’re getting onto the first tee and Phil and Chris come over and give me hugs. It was a very emotional moment as was the whole week. There will never be a tougher hole for me to play but somehow I striped my first drive.