Amid the gloomy and yet intoxicating old ruins of the town called St. Andrews and on the golf course that held the first cleat, history and tradition were caned and flogged all last week in a musty thing called the British Open by a cast of modern hustlers and legends. It was as if the Wimpy and the Whippy had come to the Royal and Ancient, along with black-eyed peas and corn bread: as if, for a while, the oldest course were only a stroll through Carnaby Street. While Tony Jacklin shot the heather off the land, Lee Trevino shot down a prime minister. And then while Jack Nicklaus played himself into the immortality of the record books, the lord of night life, Sir Douglas Sanders, played himself back from nowhere and into the hearts of those who savor the three-piece, phone-booth golf swing.
It was one of the most thrilling major championships that had been staged in years, one that suffocated in all kinds of atmosphere. It had overtones of America against the world, elements of the best and worst of shotmaking, ghastly pressure, enormous crowds, a buffet of seaside weather, the purity of British humor, the suspense of overtime—all of these things—until it was mercifully concluded by Jack Nicklaus' rendezvous with history.
There are three kinds of British Opens, all of them delightful and all of them distinctive. There is the one that is played in England at Lytham, where Jacklin won last year, or Hoylake or Birkdale, where it returns in 1971. Then there is the one that is played in Scotland, which is a little better, at Muirfield, Carnoustie or Troon. And finally there is the British Open that is played at St. Andrews every so often, like last week's. This, indeed, is the British Open.
The fact that the 99th British Open was being held at St. Andrews, the birthplace of golf, had been largely responsible for luring the strongest field of Americans in the history of the event. Aside from the three who finally settled it—Nicklaus, Sanders and Trevino—there were Arnold Palmer, of course, and Bert Yancey, Dave Marr, Miller Barber, Raymond Floyd, Dale Douglass, Orville Moody, Billy Casper, Tommy Aaron, Gay Brewer, Tommy Shaw, Tom Weiskopf and Steve Melynk, the amateur champion. Why even more Americans didn't make it was a bit mystifying. It would seem to be part of a professional's education—to see the Old Course once, at least, to investigate the wind and whins and heather, to drive over the Beardies, to relish all of this history.
All week long the Americans who did come were enthralled by the Scots' sophistication in golf. When they weren't glancing around pointing out famous hazards to each other, they were listening for marvelous lines. Dave Marr, plunging into the lore of the place, waggled an eight-iron and asked his caddie one day if the shot was a hard eight or a soft eight to the green.
"Just the true value of the club, sir," the caddie said.
When Tony Jacklin had completed the grandest 10 holes in the history of major championships—in other words, when he was eight under par through 10 holes on Wednesday—a couple of weathery old Scots, a man and woman sitting in the stands behind the 11th green, were not so dazzled. Jacklin's tee shot there ate up the flag, but it soared 30 feet beyond the cup.
"A bit long," said the lady.
"Right on the stick, though," the man said.
"Well," the lady said, "that's half the game, isn't it?"