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"Yes, certainly," he responded. "The first came to me at Muirfield in 1892. It was the first time the Open was played at 72 holes, and the trophy more or less landed in my lap. I holed two mashie pitches, and to be honest, Muirfield was little more than a drive-and-pitch course in those days. To me it seemed silly to win the open event before the amateur, and it took me years to understand that I had secured the bigger prize before the lesser. I quite agreed with those who said I was lucky to win."
"But you won it again at Hoylake in '97."
"Yes, and in the third round I did my best to throw the championship in the gutter. I played the most weak-kneed golf and took no less than 84, which relegated me from second to fifth position. I went to lunch a very sick and peevish man." He looked up at the clouds and put a finger to his lips. "I can't say that this affected my lunch, as on top of a lamb joint...."
I didn't have time to hear him recount the menu, so I tapped the table to snap him out of his reverie.
"Beside the point, yes. In any event I went around in 75 in the afternoon, which was quite good. But James Braid still had a chance. I went out to watch him, but after a couple of holes and maybe a dozen cigarettes I couldn't take the strain. So I wandered back to the clubhouse and tried to take an intelligent interest in the newspapers. I was still reading when a relative sat down near me and said, 'You must not be disappointed if you do not win. That man Braid is a very fine player.' Apparently Braid had made a 4 on the Field hole, which was exceptional.
"That did nothing to settle my nerves, so I repaired to the billiard room and played with a friend. From the club window I saw the enemy take a 6 on the 16th hole, and that gave me the courage to wander back out to see the finish. The first thing I heard was, 'He needs a 3 to tie!' I felt quite a brave man again, as the last hole at Hoylake was always a good 4 and an exceptional 3, and the wind was against Braid. But in his long career he probably never played a finer stroke than his second. It was never off the pin. Fortunately for me the green was as keen as a skating rink, and his ball kept trickling along and did not stop until it was maybe eight yards beyond. He missed that very difficult putt, and victory was mine."
Hilton turned in his chair so he could share my view of the range. "Of all my championship successes, I have always looked back on that one with the greatest degree of satisfaction," he said. "It suggested that my win at Muirfield was not a fluke."
He abruptly stood up. "Thank you for the tea. I imagine you'll be wanting to resume your practice."
"Wait!" I jumped up, stopping him in his tracks. "That thing you said about where you, er, live now--about there being no cigarettes or liquor. I can't believe that there's a place in hell for Open champions."
"There isn't," Hilton said with a knowing smile. "It's for golf writers."