And he comes in and says ‘Hey mind if I sit with you?’ Yeah of course you know? So we’re talking and he’s talking about chipping and he says ‘It’s mind-boggling how many guys out here don’t know how to chip.’  And I’m sitting there thinking like Oh boy.
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.
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.
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!”
It was a moonless night but the hotels lining the fairway provided some ambient light as did the flashlights on our phones. Mike Sean and I ripped our drives the sound echoing off the buildings like gunfire as the balls disappeared into the gloaming.
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.
“Did you ever get bored with it?” “Never” he said. “It was never scripted. I never did it the same way twice.” I asked him what his lowest handicap ever was. “A grumpy two” he said. He talked about how practice was frowned upon in his golfing boyhood. Even practice swings. “We practiced by playing” he said.
Then I noticed an artist’s studio behind it filled with spectacular modernistic seascapes. There was a note from the artist inside: if you wanted to see him knock on the door in the house behind it. It was starting to feel familiar.
I had heard about him from a faculty member at the University of St. Andrews and went to visit him in an old stone farmhouse on the outskirts of town. It was an extraordinary afternoon.
Searching for the balls was like an Easter egg hunt only more fun. My drive turned up well across the road that bisects the fairway. It was too dark to see the pin so I aimed for a streetlight that was roughly the center of the green.
I’m not that old but I am a dinosaur. I started covering the Open long before the Internet existed. In those halcyon days writing only for a weekly magazine I would routinely sneak out of the press tent around supper time and play golf until the sun set around 10 p.m. Some combination of fellow SI warriors Michael Bamberger John Garrity and Gary Van Sickle served as wingmen. These twilight rounds on the linksland were one of the great pleasures of the job.
“This year I played all four rounds at the Waste Management with Phil and it was incredible. I feel like I got the full Phil experience. But the coolest moment I’ve had with him was when I was on the Web.com Tour. I played a pickup round with Phil and Charley Hoffman at The Grand my home course in San Diego and  there’s so much banter between those guys.