One time, when I was a kid, my dad took my family and me to a Nascar race in Kansas City. I was in 8th grade and, believe it or not, three days earlier I had surgery on my hand to repair some fractures that I basically played an entire season of football with. I don’t tell you that to get the ladies all hot and bothered over how tough I was, but I tell you this so you are aware that I was on a high dose of Tylenol 3, which contains every rappers pain-killer of choice, Codeine.
Up until that point, I thought NASCAR was lame as fuck. I had the same argument everyone does about NASCAR that it was boring to watch cars go around in a circle.
Luckily, my dad had purchased his tickets through eBay and he got us into something called the hospitality village, which had tents for every driver. Our guy was named Johnny Sauter, and the tent was decked the fuck out by the respective sponsors. So you got a bunch of swag, food, a picture with the driver, whatever. The catch was, the tickets were not supposed to be resold, so my dad came up with an elaborate lie that we were supposed to say if anyone asked us our connection to one of the more than 30 sponsors that were in the tent. Obviously no one did.
When we watched the race, it was natural that we would cheer for our driver from the tent. So after a while, I realized that by having someone to cheer for, I could actually see the nuances of racing and I actually enjoyed it.
So what’s my point? Why did I tell you that after I had someone to pull for and I was all zoned out on pill-form lean, I really enjoyed myself at the race? It’s because you can have the same kind of fun watching the British Open and getting drunk (or I guess doing drugs, too), you just need to have someone to pull for any you need to get the storylines.
Storylines have become a little bit of a crutch in the golf media industry. When ESPN and sports is operating on a 24 hour news cycle, golf fans turn on the Golf Channel with the same expectations. The problem is that golf tournaments are very slow processes with 3 days of practice and 4 days of tournament play. In order to get eyeballs on the TV, roundtable discussions with fabricated debates and 30 for 30 style short films are made to talk about anything tangentially related to tournament.
The first storyline to watch for is going to be the course conditions. As with either the US or British Open, talking course condition is like heroin for the media. The British Open does have a storied history of terrible weather and bad rough and bunkers. This week there have already been complaints/ reports, depending on how you look at it, of players bombing down wind 3 irons over 350 yards and leaving themselves simple wedge shots into the green. Even if that is the case, I’m not sure how that’s a problem. Having fast fairways simply leaves most tee shots to being risk-reward.
In fact, I kind of like the idea of a tournament where distance is not one of the challenging factors. ‘You wanna bomb the ball 450 yards? Cool, good luck when it takes a bad bounce and ends up in Edinburgh (that’s a little geography joke for folks in the know).’
If you don’t really don’t watch a lot of golf or if you don’t know a lot about course conditions, heres a bullshit phrase you can say to sound smart, “yeah, I don’t mind seeing the fairways being baked out, but maybe the R&A should consider speeding up the greens. Then again, you never know when the weather is coming and changing everything, but that’s links golf.” It’s the perfect thing to say because it encapsulates what the media says exactly, that is, we can only make snap judgements based on practice rounds and we’ll see what happens as the week goes on. Regardless, everyone is playing the same course, so the judgement will be equal.
Another story line that usually gets a lot of play during rain delays or waiting is the interesting amateurs in the field. Usually the top contender for this one goes to a steel mill worker who seemingly came out of nowhere to put his hometown on the map and make good on a promise to his grandfather to ‘make it’ one day. These stories sound nice, but the truth is usually something closer to ‘guy plays college golf at Wake Forest and needs to save money to try to go to Q school, so he works in the steel mill to pay his swing coach $500 a week so he can try to finally get a tour card.’ I don’t know why the media overplays these stories. Qualifying for the Opens is really fucking hard. Just let it be at that. Sometimes, playing as an amateur can be enough to get a few invitations to play other PGA or Euro events and make a little cash.
On the other hand, the current college players and first time amateurs are basically the stars of tomorrow. Rory McIlroy played as an amateur at 18 years old. Beau Hossler played as an amateur in the US Open when he was still in high school and he’s making his British Open debut this week.
The final storyline is always the history. Now I rather enjoy this aspect. Seve Ballasteros, Tom Watson, Ben Hogan, and Gary Player are all favorites to discuss during the British Open, especially at Carnoustie. Some of the records in the tournament go back over a century (youngest winner was still Young Tom Morris in 1868). The winner is named champion golfer of the year, and not unlike the Stanley cup, the champions names are all inscribed on the Claret Jug. It’s pretty fucking magical and it just feels cool watching championship golf being played on the same tracks that the game was invented.
So that’s really it. Whether you want to pull for the course conditions to fuck everyone up or even if you want to see the world’s best golfers dismantle the course; if you want to see a young amateur playing for pride or an old player win in dramatic fashion like they used to; and if you want to watch one of the most historical sporting events in the world; there is plenty to enjoy at the 147th playing of the Open Championship.