With the marquees raised in St Andrews and the greatest golf show on earth about to start, many of my thoughts are now on The Open, and particularly, the first time I attended.
The year was 1970, it was Open No. 99, and it was eventually won by Jack Nicklaus – by one stroke in an 18th hole Sunday play-off against Doug Sanders. Rather unusually, though, that year’s Championship stands out in the annals more for what the loser failed to do that what the victor did. As the flamboyant, perma-tanned Sanders teed up on the relatively easy 18th on the Saturday, after the regulation 72 holes, he was one stroke ahead of the field and the engraver must have been itching to etch his name on the Claret Jug. And the winner-apparent did start the hole well with a long, textbook drive.
My chief recollection of the tounament, however, is nothing to do with that piece of golf history
But then things went awry. He proceeded to take four more strokes from 75 yards, rounding off the disaster with a missed 30ins putt, which left the Georgian with a perma-blush fit to match his two-tone pink outfit. From there, it was on to the Sunday play-off and Jack’s win and Doug’s defeat.
My chief recollection of the tounament, however, is nothing to do with that piece of golf history, but everything to do with Sander’s playing partner – wisecracking darling of the press, the Texan Lee Trevino.
For my visit to the hallowed sward, I was accompanied by my father, and I was just short of my 13th birthday. I was also just short of 5ft, which meant that wherever I went on the Old Course I had a clear view of the be-Pringle-sweatered and Farah-slacked backs of thousands of other members of the galleries, who were all mostly taller than 5ft.
Occasionally this seething mass parted, and I got a brief glimpse of golf’s finest, but mostly my lack of height left me short-changed on the celeb-spotting front.
But then, my dad and I noticed a mighty scrum of spectators down on the wet flats of the East Sands. Curiosity pricked, we headed off for a look-see.A steady stream of golf balls was being fired out from a point at the epicentre of the crowd, in the manner of shells from a mortar. They were landing 100 metres away, around the statue-like figure of a caddie holding an open umbrella.
Wriggling to the front of the throng I was confronted by Trevino, his swing metronomic as he sent ball after ball towards his target, while all the while his tongue was chattering away like a machine-gun. Another boy pushed to the fore at the other side of the spectator horseshoe and, in a breathless fashion, said loudly: “Dad! It’s Lee Trevino!”
Instantly, and while at the top of his back swing, Trevino hit back with: “Who were you expecting, kid? Count Dracula!”
The admiring public roared with laughter, and I went hope as happy as a, well, as happy as a sand boy. Dracula? The Count could have been on the beach with Frankenstein and the Wolfman, all in swimming trunks, riding donkeys and playing frisbee, but if Trevino had been in the vicinity they wouldn’t have had a look-in. He was one of a kind .