The British Open rotates among nine courses and next week (July 18-21) it returns to Muirfield in Scotland for the 16th time and the first since 2002.
The bookmakers have Tiger Woods listed as the favourite despite his poor showing at the U.S. Open in June. That brought back not-so-pleasant memories of my one day at the British Open in 2002.
After arriving in South Yorkshire the day before the tournament. I started thinking about the Open and how I might regret not attending. Tiger had won the previous two majors — the Masters and U.S. Open — and was expected to make it three straight. I figured getting in would be difficult but, according to the Open website, you could pay your admission for Saturday’s third round right at the course. With rain forecast, I waffled, but finally decided to catch a train to Edinburgh early on Saturday. From there, a special golf excursion would take passengers 20 miles by train and then bus to the village of Gullane, where the course is located.
All the way north, the sun lost a battle to the clouds and rain. On the excursion, I found a seat with three men who appeared to be locals. As we neared Gullane, the sun fought through the dark clouds and I remarked that it might clear up.
All three looked at the silly tourist and one said, "It will be raining when we get off the train and it will be raining when we get back on the train."
In Gullane, I followed the small crowd to a booth that belonged at a county fair. After paying £20 for my day pass, I had to remind myself that this was the Open.
Tiger and 1998 champion Mark O’Meara, who were two strokes off the lead, were scheduled to tee off at 2:30. As tee time approached, the crowd grew along the 448-yard first hole and I had to jostle to get a good spot about 40 yards from the tee box. A gale-force wind and needle-like rain hit and Tiger answered by hitting his drive into the knee-high rough. While some hardy souls did follow Woods and O’Meara down the first fairway, most ran for the only available cover — the souvenir tent. I eventually got up the courage to come out and watch a few golfers complete their rounds.
Before I left for Muirfield, my host had pushed a vinyl raincoat into my backpack so I put it on over my two rain jackets. People kept stopping me to ask where they could buy one.
Walking to the far side of the course near the Firth of Forth on the North Sea in what Golf Digest called "monsoon conditions" to catch up to Tiger was never an option.
I saw him hit that one drive and later that evening, while drying out back in Doncaster, I learned that he lost the battle to the weather and shot 81, his worst round as a pro. And yes, my companions were correct; it was raining when I climbed back on the train.
T. Kent Morgan’s Memories of Sport column will appear every three weeks in the Canstar Community News weeklies.