British Open – Country For Old Men…For Now
It’s been a long time that we’ve been waiting for this particular tournament to start. It has a special flavor all its own, something that assists in making it a major, in addition to its historical longevity. We revere the venues in operation for so many centuries compared to the rest of the golf world. We are still a little in awe of the grand buildings, the traditions, and the infernally problematic terrain and weather patterns. We love seeing a host of new European faces that, perhaps, we weren’t so familiar with on the North American tour. And, on top of all that, we know that everyone who is anyone…will be there.
There seems to be a pattern, particularly among the older, more historically encrusted majors, that older men do very well in the early rounds, and sometimes even hang on to remain in contention on day 4. Of course, the term “old” is very relative when we’re speaking of golf, and with the tide of young stars, esteemed players reach middle age more quickly than they used to.
As I say, then, this thoroughly British tournament has finally arrived, and is a quarter completed. Who is leading? Zach Johnson, who is presently 37. That’s not really old, but he is a former major winner and experienced veteran. If you’re good enough to win one major, you can never be considered a fluke in the rest of them. You’ll always be one who is capable of bursting out again at any time. He is, in short, not a starry-eyed whiz kid who is taking the Open by storm because he doesn’t know any better.
Close behind is Mark O’Meara – shall I repeat that? Mark is 56, and an eon ago, he spent two hundred weeks in the top 10, gathering 16 PGA wins along the way. We used to hear his name all the time, and his sweet sing was a source of ongoing comment. So, why is Mark O’Meara suddenly one of the golden boys again, coming in at minus 4?
Tom Lehman finished today at three under. Check your calendar – yes, this is 2013, and Lehman is another respected name from the past. Incidentally, he’s 54. Score another one for the old guys.
Shiv Kapur , at 31, falls into the category of new faces more than he fits into the historical archives. He is one of few Indian professionals at the moment, comes out of the fine Purdue University program and has won events such as the Indian and Malaysian Opens, and the Volvo Masters of Asia. Still, this one is a surprise.
Despite his lengthy majors draught, there’s still a tendency to hold one’s breath in Tiger’s case. He’s at two under at 38 years of age. Joining him is Phil Mickelson, hot off his Scottish victory last week, who seems to have a tremendous amount of quality golf left in him at 45.
Even venerable Tom Watson, 64, is still playing a game that belongs in such a venue. He’s at plus 4.
And where is the youth? The most talented symbol of young male golfers, Rory McIlroy, skied into the high 70s, continuing his inexplicable stagnation over the past season after winning the PGA almost a year ago. He used words such as “unconscious” and “brain-dead.” His explanation was vague – “…it’s hard to stand up here and tell you guys what’s really wrong.”
So what is it? The psychology of a major tournament that brings maturity to the top, trumping young sizzle? Is it a more considerate, thoughtful analysis of the task that favors the more sophisticated students of the game? Is it more experience with such hot spots within the sport? Surely, changing your brand of clubs doesn’t derail you from contention, assuming they’re quality products, and that the player has faithfully practiced with them.
Perhaps youth will have its way after all on days 2 through 4, but I’ve almost come to expect that I’ll get to see some older faces early in the battle, and that has come true again.
Britain is seven or eight hours ahead of the North American west coast. They’re about ready to tee it up. Let’s see if the old guys stick around.