by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

TURNBERRY, Scotland — The British Open ended here Saturday, a day earlier than expected. The cup and the check were handed over to the obvious winner — the Ailsa course.

“Thank you,” said the greens.

“A real thrill,” added the rough.

“Lovely,” chimed the wind and rain.

What a performance. Not one golfer under par. Not one golfer at par. How’s that for defending your honor? And don’t say, “Ah, it can rain anywhere.” The weather is as much a part of this 83-year-old Scottish temptress as her tees.

So on Saturday, when Turnberry’s fairways, narrow as veins, were not enough, the wind blew.

When the wind wasn’t enough, the rain fell.

When the rain wasn’t enough — as on the 16th hole, when Greg Norman actually had the audacity to be one under par — it rained harder. Came down in sheets.

And Norman bogeyed.

One under par. Indeed.

“You couldn’t see a thing once that rain started,” the Australian said afterward. “It was coming down horizontally. Every time you looked at the hole it stung your eyes.”

He shook his head. He shivered. He had spent much of the day in deep bunkers and high grass and now he looked like a blond sheepdog that had been hosed with ice water.

And he was the leader. At one over par.

“It’s a different kind of course,” he lamented, sipping on a cup of hot coffee.

“Thank you,” said the greens.

“Much obliged,” said the rough.

“Lovely,” chimed the wind and rain. Conditions were never worse

It is a different kind of course. It is a mean and windswept course. It is a course that evokes pictures of bodies falling from lighthouse cliffs in some Alfred Hitchcock movie.

Three days they have golfed here at this small coastal village, in this 115th British Open. The first day, the course blew away half the field with its weather and natural ferocity. The second day, it sucked in its breath. And the third day, it blew away all the rest. Watson and Nicklaus are out of the picture. Ballesteros and Lyle are just shadow and memory.

Nobody under par. Nobody at par. It is a different kind of course. Wicked and cold and slippery.

“Have you ever played in worse conditions at a major championship?” someone asked Tommy Nakajima, who is one shot behind Norman.

“Never,” said Nakajima.

And he was one of the survivors.

“We’re touched,” said the greens.

“Such nice words,” added the rough.

“Lovely,” chimed the wind and rain.

Strange things seem to happen here, mostly bad things for the golfers. Bernhard Langer, considered the favorite here Friday, hit his tee shot on the second hole Saturday right to the middle of the fairway. The third hole fairway.

D.A. Weibring quadruple-bogeyed the 18th hole. Ray Floyd couldn’t talk afterward because he “felt feverish and wanted to get into a bath as quickly as possible.”

When the round was over, Nakajima, whose English is limited, sat in the press tent as the raindrops drumrolled on the roof.

“Dis,” he said, pointing up, “is unbaweevable.”

“Thank you,” said the greens.

“How kind,” said the rough.

“Lovely,” chimed the wind and the rain. It’s no fun for anybody

So three rounds are gone. And what do we have left? With most players too far back to matter, what we have left is a four-player tournament: Norman, Nakajima, Gordon Brand and Ian Woosnam. Try saying that five times fast.

You never heard of them? They are not the big stars? No surprise. Why should golfers grab the spotlight here? The course is the star. The weather is the star. You don’t win here. You survive here.

“Does playing on a course like this in conditions like this change the tournament?” someone asked Norman.

“I think it does,” he said. “It’s no fun for players, it’s no fun for spectators.

“You come up the 18th fairway and it doesn’t feel like the British Open. Nearly everybody has gone. You can’t see anything. You can’t hear people cheering. All you can think of is getting in and not hurting yourself.”

So the British Open ended Saturday, with the course declared the winner. Only somebody forgot to tell the players. And they plan on showing up this morning for one more dose of punishment.

The course is not worried.

The course never worries.

“Not us,” say the greens.

“Let them come,” adds the rough.

“Lovely,” chimes the wind and rain.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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