TROON, Scotland — Well, maybe you think it’s perfectly normal to have humid sunshine on a Scottish golf course, with half the male fans bare-chested and swigging beer, while the only golfer left in contention from the United Kingdom listens to opera every night on his Walkman. But personally, I find the whole thing a little . . . strange.
Welcome to the 1989 British (It’s Anybody’s) Open, where the weather has been more like Florida’s and the leader board suddenly comes in red, white and blue. Tom Watson — our Tom Watson — one stroke off the lead? Didn’t they say Americans can’t win this thing anymore? Is that why there are eight in the top 11 as we begin today’s final round? “These Europeans,” snapped Mark Calcavecchia, who is three strokes from the front, “they win a couple Ryder Cups and they act like we’re inferior. Hey. America has the greatest golfers in the world. I’m proud of that.”
Of course, this comes from a man who swears by potato chips, and whose clothes look as if they just came out of the rinse cycle. You expect, from Calcavecchia, a little irreverence.
You don’t expect it everywhere else. But wherever you look here at Royal Troon, things are not as they’re supposed to be:
Look up, you see blue skies. What, no rain? No hailstorm? The Scottish believe golf should be played in a Victorian novel, with wind and thunder and mist on the moors. Instead we have cocoa butter.
Look across at the leader board. What gives? There’s hardly a Brit to be found; not a kilt in sight. Sandy Lyle, a local favorite, was last seen on a fairway, searching for his five- iron. Nick Faldo, the 1987 champion, was last seen searching for a new personality. Ian Woosnam was last seen shopping for elevator shoes.
Believe it or not, the only remaining homeland contender is David Feherty, a Northern Irishman who has never come close to a major championship, and credits much of his success here to opera, which he hums as he walks down the course.
” ‘Turandot,’ ” he said Saturday. “It’s my favorite opera. I love it. Didn’t Jack Nicklaus used to hum ‘Moon River’ as he walked the fairways?”
” ‘Moon River’ isn’t ‘Turandot,’ ” someone said.
“Right,” Feherty said, nodding. “Andy Williams couldn’t sing ‘Turandot.’ “
Told you things were strange. Let us, therefore, sift through the contenders for today’s championship and make it easier for you to place a bet, which is perfectly legal over here. You can even bet on yourself. Watson did. At 80-1. Paul Azinger bet a wad on his American countrymen. How do you like that? Maybe Pete Rose should have his
case tried in Glasgow.
Anyhow, unless Greg Norman suddenly rediscovers his stomach for competition, or Larry Mize closes his eyes and pretends it’s the Masters, these are the guys to watch for today, and the traits that may make them champions. Got your shorts on? Got your sunglasses ready? This, after all, is Scotland. Tom Watson, USA, 11 under: He may not lead in skill or strength, but he is the best story out there by a long shot. He has won five of these British Opens and would tie the record of Harry Vardon if he won a sixth. Watson has struggled with his confidence, his putter and the media in the six years since he last won a major. But if there was ever a place for retribution, this is it. We call it Scotland; Watson calls it Lourdes. He is so in love with Scottish golf. I think he carries bagpipes in his trunk. “The sights, the smells, the hills, the deep grass, the unlucky bounces, the lucky bounces, wearing a sweater, I just love it here,” he gushed Saturday. “This is the way golf should be. American courses are too well-manicured. You just don’t get the same feeling there.”
Don’t say that to Calcavecchia. Mark Calcavecchia, USA, nine under: You gotta pull for this guy. First of all, he waves the flag. Secondly, he’s one of the few young American golfers who doesn’t act as if he works for NASA. Nabisco would be more his style. A recent diet has shrunk Mark’s girth to 200 pounds. He still waddles. Awful swing, which makes him that much more lovable. And a few years ago, when he first encountered Jack Nicklaus across a dinner table, he could think only one thing: “Don’t drool barbecue sauce down your shirt.”
You gotta like that. Wayne Grady, Australia, 12 under: The leader, but not for long. Look for Wayne to finish second; he has done it 26 times in his career. “It feels bloody good, mate,” he said Saturday, when asked his emotions at leading the pack. Hey, Wayne. Forget it. Even if you won, with that blond hair and accent, people would just think you were Norman. Payne Stewart, USA, 10 under: This would be a victory for the fashion industry. The last time I saw knickers like that, munchkins were wearing them. Stewart delights in being the dandy, even down to his shoes, which are tailor-made in Italy with silver toe caps. He even coordinates his colors, he says, “to match NFL teams. One day I’m the Washington Redskins. Next day I’m the LA Raiders.”
Notice he didn’t mention the Lions. Fred Couples, USA, nine under: Big hitter, great swing, won’t win it. He suffers a reputation for enjoying the top-10 prize money without bothering to push for first place. Besides, he looks too much like Bobby Goldsboro. David Feherty, Northern Ireland, nine under: Good putter, great flair. Not only would a victory by the 30-year-old Feherty save face for suddenly embarrassed Great Britain, it would strike a blow for highbrow music. After all, how many golfers will tell you: “I go to sleep listening to Puccini in my headphones. Sometimes I nod off and I wake up with sore ears and the cord wrapped around my neck.
“I love to listen to opera; I find it marvelously relaxing. Do I understand it? Well, I don’t speak Italian, but most operas are pretty much the same story. Boy meets girl, boy shags girl, father gets killed by a hunchback.”
Whatever. Take your pick. A sentimental favorite, a junk- food loving Yankee, a man in knickers, or the second coming of Mario Lanza. Some golf purists may complain that I left out Azinger and Jodie Mudd, who are eight under par and well within striking distance of today’s championship. Sorry, folks. Call it a gut feeling.
Then again, I could be wrong. And if Jodie won it, he could step to the 18th green, accept the trophy and introduce himself by saying, “Hello, my name is Mudd.”
At this Open, no one would blink. U.S. DROUGHT
From 1970 to 1983, Americans won 12 of 14 British Open championships. But no American has won the Open since Tom Watson in ’83. YR PLAYER NATION 1988 Seve Ballesteros Spain 1987 Nick Faldo England 1986 Greg Norman Australia 1985 Sandy Lyle England 1984 Seve Ballesteros Spain 1983 Tom Watson USA 1982 Tom Watson USA 1981 Bill Rogers USA 1980 Tom Watson USA 1979 Seve Ballesteros Spain 1978 Jack Nicklaus USA 1977 Tom Watson USA 1976 Johnny Miller USA 1975 Tom Watson USA 1974 Gary Player S. Africa 1973 Tom Weiskopf USA 1972 Lee Trevino USA 1971 Lee Trevino USA 1970 Jack Nicklaus USA