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.
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 was sort of my introduction into what the top dogs do. So we’re on the second hole and I think Charley was already up on him. You know they always gamble a certain amount of money. Phil’s about to tee off and he’s pretending to struggle. He was like ‘Oh gosh it’s so hard to swing.’ I was like what’s going on?
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.
“The Ping-Pong stories everybody’s heard? All pretty much true. He’s really good and really competitive. But my favorite Phil story was probably last year in Boston. I was playing with Phil and Ian Poulter and none of us were hitting it really good but we were all getting it up and down a good bit.
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.
Thompson was tired but committed to the task. He didn’t drive six hours caddie (successfully) for seven days and pester 20 legends for autographs just to let Mr. Molinari off the hook. Rest assured he’d get that signature.
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.
To which Phil who has shaken hands with a trillion golfers responded ‘You know Charlie I’ve thought of you every day since we met. In fact just yesterday I was wondering about how you your wife and your family have been doing.’
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!”
My wedge shot felt a hair thin but right on line. Mike played his shot just short of the green while sadly Sean was in pocket both his drive and mulligan having disappeared into the night.
On a par 3 I had hit it to about 25 feet and Phil hit it to about 35 feet. Phil made his putt which put the pressure on me. And he was chattering you know like he always does. I made the putt on top of him and he said ‘You know that ruined a great story right?’