Strange Happenings at British Open

We all watched the drama on TV and listened to the announcers explain Watson’s incredible run for the Claret Jug, but the last few days at Glen Abbey I got a better look from the guys inside the ropes. Sitting around the old Dorfman estate turned monastery turned golf course I watched and listened to everyone walking alongside Watson on the weekend. Matthew Goggin, Steve Marino, and their caddies witnessed history, almost. Every time they spoke about their experience a small crowd of caddies, players, and volunteers gathered, listening intently. We couldn’t get enough; we almost witnessed the greatest achievement in golf.

Usually, the only conversation centers on crossing the border. Only one player, Alex Cejka and one caddy, “Bullet Bob” were denied access, and a few others were hassled when the British Open charter landed in Toronto. Anyone with a DUI had to pay a $200 one time entry fee and endure a couple hours of interrogation or waiting in a holding cell. Anyway, everyone wanted to hear about TW, they were in awe, a state not normally seen on the PGA Tour. The self-centered, egotistical, spoiled-rotten, young pros gained a new respect for their elders.

After sitting around all day Monday I headed for the nearest pub, Sharky’s, for a pint or two with T. J. and Mullet. When I walked in they were curled up to the bar with Steve Marino and his caddy, GW, listening to their animated conversation about last Saturday at Turnberry. I quietly ordered a beer and listened. You could tell Steve was awestruck and GW couldn’t throw out enough compliments. They both admitted watching Tom may have adversely affected their game, but there were no regrets. It was nice seeing a youngster pay respect to his elder.

The conversation wondered a bit, but always came back to their admiration for Tom’s ball striking, character, composure, and good ol’ boy nature. Steve’s a bit cocky; I think he learned a bit about how an all-time great conducts himself during a tournament. You could see it in his eyes; he went through a bit of a transformation Saturday afternoon. He may not have played well but he took a lot away from the day. His caddy, GW, also made a few headlines.

Charter flights get a bit rambunctious at times, especially after a long week at a major; and always in the back of the plane where the free spirits gather and the alcohol spirits flow freely. GW, according to Marino, is off the charts and after a few cocktails anything can happen. Wally, Ken Duke’s caddy, was the instigator. It involved a large sum of money gathered from inebriated players and caddies, Marino’s urine sample chilled over ice, a beer bottle full of Copenhagen tobacco spittle, and a cigarette butt. GW ingested everything for the tidy sum of $3,000.

I confirmed it with Wally and a few others on the flight. Their eyes rolled and stomach’s turned as they were reliving the flight. GW wouldn’t go into details, all he said was, “Man, $3,000 is $3,000. Wouldn’t you do it?” He was so nonchalant at Sharky’s, we knew he’d have made a great participant on Fear Factor. All Marino could do was shake his head, “that’s my old buddy and caddy.” Sure is nice having some free spirits back on tour instead of the “robo-pros”.

I watched Goggin stroll from green to tee during the pro-am enjoying his new fame. Pictures were taken with everyone and the number one question was, “So, what was it like playing with Watson?” Matthew and his caddy, sorry I don’t know his name, considered it an honor and privilege. Tom treated them with respect and it was like playing with one of your buddies until they came down the stretch. I remember seeing that at Canterbury during the Senior PGA.

It’s been a long time since four rounds of golf have left such an impression on seasoned players and caddies. Usually, no one cares. There may be a select group of friends you discuss last week’s play with, but I’ve never seen everyone so enthralled with one player’s week. Tom Watson, not the other TW, was center stage. Tom made it a game for a lifetime, except for the last eight feet. He handled the admiration and the defeat with honor, dignity, and a touch of class. The boys out here learned a lot watching him last week, and it wasn’t all about striking the ball.

Hopefully, they will get to thank him personally someday. Tom’s lesson should be indelibly sketched across everyone’s forehead and reread every time something doesn’t go their way. Tom’s was gutted on the eighteenth by a bad links golf bounce and he couldn’t get back up for the playoff. It wasn’t caddy error (sorry Ox, I was wrong for insinuating something like that earlier this week), Matthew and his caddy both said it was the perfect shot, landing a step onto the green but taking a big bounce.

Tom walked across the greenafter the play-off clapping his hands, congratulated Stuart, and then he answered the tough questions in the press room with dignity, honesty, and grace. He’ll be back we just don’t know if he’ll get this close again.

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