When the British Open went to its unique four-hole playoff format in 1985, a pleasant tremor coursed through the bodies of certain observers. Television directors saw the four holes as a dramatic device. Artists visualized a frame. Cultured types noted the resemblance to concert encores, which now take up roughly a third of a musical evening. Numerologists pointed out that boxing rings and most playing fields are four-sided. The number 4, furthermore, multiplied by the three pen strokes required to form it, comes to 12—the true number of alien bodies discovered at Roswell, N.Mex.
The tournament players, on the other hand, greeted the format with puzzled shrugs. Why play four holes to break a 72-hole tie? Why not two or 13 or seven? Why not stick with the traditional 18-hole playoff or, if change was absolutely necessary, switch to the sudden-death format used at the Masters and the PGA Championship? The answer would be provided four years later at Royal Troon. Four holes, it turns out, is the number necessary to deny Greg Norman victory when he is playing his best.
"Everything over there is different," Norman said recently. "The sound of the ball off the fairway is totally different. The feel is totally different."
He was talking about British links golf and specifically Royal Troon, the seaside course south of Glasgow on the Ayrshire coast. "You can't play American-style golf at Troon," said the two-time British Open champion. "You have to have a lot of imagination."
Imagination is a useful thing. If you can imagine Norman's career as a castle full of paintings in gilded frames, Troon '89 is the spooky self-portrait hanging in the Misery Wing—the only British example in a gallery of horrors that include Inverness '86, Augusta '87 and the black-draped Augusta '96. Step closer. Sharing the Troon canvas with Norman are his fellow Queenslander, Wayne Grady, and a freckled, 29-year-old pro out of the University of Florida, Mark Calcavecchia. That's Calcavecchia on the left—the one with the smile.
Now picture the 118-room Jarvis Caledonian Hotel in Ayr, sometime in July 1989. Calcavecchia is in the upstairs dining room having dinner. "I'm going to win," he tells the waiters. Laughter greets his prediction, but someone says, "When you win, bring the cup up here, and we'll have some champagne out of it." The golfer grins and says, "It's a deal."
What about Wayne Grady? Did he imagine victory on that warm summer evening in Scotland? Don't know. A phone call to his home in Australia finds Grady disconsolate over the current state of his game—he has won only $9,255 in seven starts this season—and loath to relive a painful defeat. "I'd rather not talk about the British Open," he says apologetically. "It's bad enough not being able to go this year."
One thing can be said of Royal Troon in 1989: It was a fast track. A months-long drought had baked the fairways to a consistency similar to the runways at nearby Prestwick Airport. Big hitters humbled the downwind par-5s with drives of nearly 400 yards, and the rough more resembled tinder than thicket. One patch actually caught fire.
The toasty conditions were perfect for Grady, a Brisbane native who, like Norman, was living and practicing in Orlando. Rounds of 68-67 gave Grady the 36-hole lead, two shots ahead of Payne Stewart and five-time British Open champion Tom Watson. On Saturday, with the temperature still in the 80s, Grady shot 69 and retained his lead, one shot ahead of Watson and two up on Stewart. Somewhat hot himself, having won his first PGA Tour event, the Manufacturers Hanover Westchester (N.Y.) Classic six weeks before, the likable Grady was nevertheless overshadowed by his more prominent pursuers. "After the second round," he said at the time, "I had to read one newspaper for 15 minutes before I knew that I was in the lead."
Norman, meanwhile, had shot 69-70-72. He was not only seven shots behind Grady, but he also had a dozen players to overtake, several of Ryder Cup stature. To get back into contention he would need...but nobody was making those calculations. Only Norman. The Shark told his shaving mirror that a final-round 63 might get him his second claret jug.