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.”
We talked for a while he left came back in all his wooly Old Tom garb and told me his life story — that is Old Tom’s life story — in character. Holy crow. I wrote it up in a book. I’ve thought of Joy often over the years but I had never seen him since that day.
On Friday after a long day at the paragraph factory I met Bamberger and fellow colleague Sean Zak for a late dinner in St. Andrews. It’s a bit of a drive to get from there to Carnoustie but I had chosen to stay in the Auld Grey Toon because I love it so much.
On Wednesday of Open week I went for a run first into town then up a long long hill out of town. I don’t map or plan my runs. I just run until I don’t feel like it anymore or until something captures my interest and I kept going up this country-lane hill and for some reason was not getting tired. When I saw a spectacular-looking restaurant in the middle of farm fields I stopped to take a look.
“I have a Phil story from Muirfield Village at the 2013 Presidents Cup. We were doing really well playing alternate shot and we were dormie 6 up with whatever left to play. And I had about a 5-foot putt on 13 to win the match — and it 360ed the hole. Lipped out.
I had a huge respect for him but you were inspired to beat guys like Phil. But as years went by we mellowed a bit. So when the Ryder Cup came round in 2006 I knew Phil and his wife Amy pretty well. That was a difficult Ryder Cup for me.
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.
“I’ve had a couple of interactions with Phil but the one time I really talked to him was at Oakmont in 2016 right after the St. Jude where he hit this shot on No. 17. He was right up against a tree and he hit a big slingin’ hook around the tree to about six feet. I walked up to him at Oakmont and was like ‘Dude that was the greatest shot I think I’ve ever seen in my .’And he was like ‘You liked that? You liked that?’ I was like ‘Yeah!”
I stayed in St. Andrews during the Open or on its outskirts and I jogged several times through the old town. The Senior British Open is being played this week on the Old Course but that’s not why the course was closed for play on Sunday the day Francesco Molinari won 45 minutes up the coast in Carnoustie.
We talked about his sons the books he has written and is writing working with John Cleese in Titleist spots from long ago the modern game the old game. He didn’t lapse into Old Tom. We were in the here and now. If you like mystery and weird coincidences Scotland is a good place to be.
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.
You know he made me feel guilty! Like nobody can chip compared to you you know? So he’s like ‘It’s unbelievable but when you’re chipping and you’re trying to hit it high you gotta put it on the front foot.