TROON, Scotland — Cinderella story. Former sports writer. About to become the British Open cham–
OK. So I exaggerate. A little. But I was out there Wednesday, preparing to tee off — and not just any hole, either. I was on the longest hole in the history of British Opens, the famous sixth hole at Royal Troon, a whopping 577 yards to the green. Long? Can we talk long? This thing is so long that, during World War II, they used the beach alongside it for hand grenade practice. And I am not making this up.
Did I mention I am the world’s worst golfer?
Actually, that’s not true. I look up to the world’s worst golfer. I’d be honored to carry his bag. I do not love to play golf. My boss loves to play golf. He sends me to these exotic golf courses, then yells at me for not appreciating them. I think it’s in his contract.
Anyhow, I was determined to get the feel of this course before the Open, which begins today. And the locals told me, “Go to the sixth hole.” (Actually, they said “Goo toooda sixth hooole,” which is the way they talk over here. But that is another story.)
So is the way I play golf. Let me say there is no way I can play a hole 577 yards long. I have trouble with the windmills on the putt-putt course. Besides, I didn’t have any clubs.
“Throw it?” said my colleague Jim, a writer from Florida.
“Why not?” I said. “This is such a big hole? Let’s see how many throws it takes from tee to green.”
“Throw it?” he said.
“Got any golf balls?” Green ahead, somewhere
Now, I thought this was a good idea. After all, the way I play golf, my throw is my best shot. So I walked to the souvenir stand and purchased one Maxfli golf ball. Cost me four bucks. That did not include the fish and chips, which I ate, because a man should not play golf on an empty stomach. Also the baked potato. And the ice cream cone. Hey. It’s a big hole.
And off we walked. And walked. And walked. Finally, we found the sixth tee.
“Where’s the green?” I asked, squinting.
Jim pointed. “Straight ahead. On the horizon. See that mountain? . . . “
“All right, all right. Let’s get started.”
I stepped up, palmed the ball and rolled it between my fingers. I gazed at the beautiful Firth of Clyde. I gazed at the undulating hills of this famous hole. I thought of Nicklaus. I thought of Watson. I thought of Koufax.
I threw it.
“FORE!” I yelled.
(I should explain that, as this was late Wednesday, few people were on the course. Just a small army of groundskeepers who looked at me, shrugged and reached in their buckets for another batch of dirt.)
And the ball landed.
And rolled into the rough.
“That’s about 40 yards,” Jim said, scribbling in his pad. “Only 537 to go.”
“Hmmm,” I said. I walked to the ball, picked it up and threw it again, a high-pop. It bounced about 35 yards away and landed in the rough.
Another throw. Middle of the fairway. Another throw. Back in the rough. Another throw. Sand trap.
“Any sight of the green?” I asked, panting.
“We still in Scotland?”
“I think so.” A plop, a roll — ker-plunk!
Now, for those who appreciate the fine art of throwing the golf ball, let me assure you I mixed up my tosses the way a pro would mix up his clubs. I tried the famous lefty toss (27 yards), the sidearm whip (45 yards) and the ever-popular grounder to short (39 yards, four divots). Earlier this week, Greg Norman claimed this course was so hard and fast “I could hit a 400-yard drive — 280 in the air and 120 on the roll.”
Yeah. Maybe. But did he ever try a curveball?
“Look!” Jim said, after my 10th throw skipped through the dandelions and into the fairway and nested just above a bunker. And there it was. About 100 yards away. The flag. It was calling to me in a sweet voice. “Underhand,” it cooed. “Underhand.”
I whipped it underhand, the ball rolled, skipped and reached the lip of the green. Now was time for the pitching wedge; or in my case, the pitch. I tossed meekly and watched the ball plop and roll, toward the cup, toward the cup . . . past the cup, past the cup.
“How many is that?” I asked.
“Twelve,” Jim said.
I dropped to my knees. I examined the lie. “It hooks a little right. This could be tricky.”
I closed one eye, took a deep breath, and, using only the golf tools that God gave me, flicked my middle finger off my thumb, as if shooting a crumb off the table.
It’s in the hole.
And there you have it. Thirteen strokes — er, throws — to glory. “Nice putting,” Jim said, and I accepted his congratulations. The longest hole in British Open history. We had tamed it. The groundskeepers stared at us, shrugged and threw more dirt.
We walked home. Unappreciative, boss? Ha. I might never be a great golfer,
I might never even be a great golf-watcher. But for one brief and shining moment I played Troon, my way, and Greg Norman could not have done it any better.
Bo Jackson maybe, but not Greg Norman.