They played the 137th edition of the British Open under conditions no sane golfer (a contradiction?) would volunteer to essay. Rain, the first couple of days, wind (always) at 40 MPH or so kept up a pant leg flapping beat on the greens, where a sudden gust would actually move the golf ball unbidden by the putter. About the highest scores in fifty years were good enough to win.
Royal Birkdale is another of those unrelieved pastures pock-marked by what appear to be mortared, round bunkers. But such is the New World reverence for crummy old things that no American commentator would dare suggest the place is mislocated on the face of the earth.
There have been worse here in the New World. There was a time before agronomy learned to grow grass greens in northern climes. Take the old municipal course in Cheyenne, Wyoming, prior to WW2, the one across the road from the old airport. The cow pasture fairways led to cottonseed oiled greens! Correct: lumpy, brownish expanses that accepted and maintained every heel mark of the players, that defied a ball to maintain a trajectory. Scores skyrocketed but nobody cared that much because times were tough, shafts hickory, and technique a stranger to the thing that would become television one day. There were diversions, like the day the autogyro arrived at the airport across the road. Not a helicopter, an autogyro. Helicopters and television were for later.
For here and now there was cooperation. The nearest news was broadcast from a place called Denver, far south. Europe was not happy, but in this country’s time when unemployment was 20 percent, even cottonseed-oiled greens were accepted. And folks seemed to want to cooperate. Like the night over in Laramie when the air mail pilot lost his bearings and his landing lights. “Don’t know where the hell I am!” he cried over his radio, and mothers shuddered to hear the rebroadcast. Not to worry, lost pilot. Dozens of cars raced out to the darkened field and turned their headlights skyward.
Yes, “turned their headlights,” for in those days cars were made with detachable and moveable headlights jutting from their mounts. It was a simple matter to thrust their beams skyward to aid a lost mailman. And it worked.
Not to say the golfing world was stuck on cottonseed oil greens. There would be progress and finally the better northern clubs would be blessed with oiled sand greens. The caddy’s job would be, in addition to carrying the bag, to take a lengthy squeegee from its place near the green and rake a putting path from where the ball had come to rest to and across the cup, thereby assuring a smooth highway for the putt.
Just as the helicopter replaced the autogyro, so real grass finally supplanted cottonseed and sand. They figured out how to make it grow in areas with severe winters. They have figured out a lot of things, now haven’t they? But not yet how to make a 53-year-old man win the windswept British Open.
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