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I TOOK THE LOW ROAD TO THE BRITISH OPEN

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

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Before I get to my newest favorite athlete and my personal choice to win this year’s British Open, a golfer who is allergic to grass, I want to tell you about an exciting new travel experience: sitting on a highway, waiting for a Scottish tow truck!

Sounds great, huh? This is how I spent much of my first day here Wednesday, after my rent-a-car broke down somewhere between The Firth of Forth and The Fifth of Schnapps.

This, I should add, was a car I did not want to rent in the first place, except that when I landed at the airport, I realized — and here’s where the story gets interesting — that I was on the WRONG SIDE OF THE COUNTRY!

Oops. Well, now. That could be a problem. I was pretty sure I had asked my travel agent to book me into the nearest airport to St. Andrews — merely the most famous and history- laden golf course in the world. But maybe she thought I said “Book me near St. Andrews Tool & Die Shop,” which is probably somewhere in downtown Glasgow, the city where I landed, which is only about two hours west of the golf course, give or take a few sheep.

This, by the way, is how I learned I was on THE WRONG SIDE OF THE COUNTRY: I stepped up to the rent-a-car counter and asked the young Scottish woman how far the airport was from St. Andrews.

She said: “Ooooh, fir!”

And I said: “Fir?”

And she said: “It’s queet fir, yees!”

And I said: “Fir?”

She then made a face that, had she spoken English, or at least English that I could understand, would roughly translate to: “This idiot is on the wrong side of the country, and he’s making fun of me? What a dork.”

And then she rented me a car that broke down.
“Whysee deery oot me root?

Of course, the first thing you must do when your car breaks down in a foreign country, a good 25 miles from the airport, is NOT PANIC. So I got out of the vehicle and began to stroll along the highway with my hands in my pockets, as if I suddenly decided a walk through exhaust fumes would be a lovely way to spend the afternoon.

And eventually I spotted a car dealership, and I went in and explained my dilemma to two men who were sitting behind a desk, smoking cigars. They were very nice, and they let me use the phone, which was great, until the woman from the Scottish AAA started talking on the other end.

This, as near as I can tell, is what she said:

“Whysee deery oot me root?”

What do you say to that? Yes? No? Sorry, I’m married? Eventually, I had no choice but to put on one of the salesmen, who told her: “Looook, grayne see hees to aulto fellaw query ooly beens o’laly, OK?”

He hung up and said: “Forty-five minutes.”

Which was more like two hours.

But let’s get back to Bernhard Langer.
“ahhhahhhh . . . ahhhhhhchhhoooo”

Yes. Bernhard Langer, that serious-looking golfer from West Germany, and my newest choice for Athlete We Should Root For From Now On. Hey. You thought I had problems, sitting there on the highway? Wait. We now learn that Langer, 32, a man who has earned over $3 million on the tour and has even won the Masters, is, and I am not making this up, allergic to grass. That’s right. And trees. Serious allergy. Has had it for years!

In fact, the doctor who discovered the problem reportedly told him: “I find it unbelievable that you can go out to work on golf courses every day. To me, it is amazing that you can live.”

Well, now. That’s sort of a downer, isn’t it? That’s like telling Chuck Daly that silk makes him break out in a rash. And wait. The doctor wasn’t finished. He also told Langer, “I have never seen a sportsman with such a high level of muscle tension, not only in your back, but in your entire body.”

Hmm. You know, I’ve often watched Langer play, and I always thought he looked a little stiff. Now I realize his back was screaming, “Get me a heating pad!” And his nose was going “aahhhh . . . ahhhahhhh . . . ahhhhhhchhhoooo”

Which may explain the yips.

Yep. Yips. Langer suffers from them, too. This means, at the drop of a hat
— or, in his case, a tissue — he can lose his putting touch. It’s already happened three times in his career and has cost him numerous tournaments.

Now I don’t know about you, but a bad back, shaky wrists and drippy sinuses are an awful lot to heap on one golfer.

I think it’s even worse than all those second places Greg Norman has to put up with, or all the short jokes Ian Woosnam has to tolerate.

(Wee Ian, they call him over here. I think in the States they call him Dudley Moore.)

So I am going to make Bernhard my new favorite, and pick him to win the British, for all the hay fever sufferers of the world. Also, I promise never to complain about a lousy rent-a- car, now that I see how bravely Langer suffers his woes. When asked how long he could take it, Langer said: “I’ll just carry on as long I can. Right now, I don’t feel like a wreck.”

If he wants one, he can have mine. It’s on the highway, not fir away.

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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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