Golf GameBook had a great honour to be involved with the 143rd Open Championship played at Royal Liverpool. Our UK-based campaign with MasterCard gave two lucky GameBook users an experience of a lifetime to act as official scorers in the first round of the championship. It was something neither of them will never forget.
But as always around The Open, there were loads of other stories worth to be told too. We will tell you four of them.
A gallon of whisky
Seven years ago, I saw a kid from Northern Ireland playing in a professional tournament. I was amazed by what I saw. His swing was so smooth, so effortless. His appearance so confident and energetic. I couldn’t see nothing but a great future ahead of him.
“Rory McIlroy wins at least three majors in ten years time”, I said to a friend of mine.
He knew just as well as me that one’s success in major tournaments can’t really be predicted. There are so many variables, in life and in a pro golfer’s career, that it’s more or less an art of lucky guessing.
So we made a bet: If McIlroy wins three majors by the PGA Championship of 2017, my friend will buy me a gallon of whisky. If not, it’s me who buys the big bottle.
What I could never have predicted, or even guessed, was that I would be there at the grandstand to follow when my gallon of whisky walks down the last fairway, taps in, hugs his mom and captures his third major title – 13 tournaments before our deadline.
As much as I would like to insist so, I didn’t see the future. It was just a lucky guess, and nothing but a lucky guess. But while sitting there at the grandstand, eye-witnessing it to happen, it suddenly felt quite special. It felt like one of those stories that were born years ago without no one knowing it and just waited there to be told seven years later.
While McIlroy was preparing for his last bunker shot next to the last green of Royal Liverpool, I decided that I won’t accept that bottle to be just given to me. I decided that we will go to pick it up together. We will go to Northern Ireland, our golf clubs and a few other friends with us, play some of the best courses on the planet and visit a carefully chosen distillery.
My friend just doesn’t know it yet. After reading this story he will.
Tears and shivers
The most touching moment of the 143rd Open Championship happened fifteen minutes before the winner could be officially declared. The penultimate group was approaching the 18th green and the whole grandstand stood up. Sergio Garcia had played some brilliant golf and cut McIlroy’s seven shot lead to two shots. He had been the leading chaser and made the championship worth watching. With a massive standing ovation the crowd gave him something back.
Garcia put his palm on his heart and sent kisses for the fans to thank them. He stretched out his arm and showed it to his playing partner Dustin Johnson.
He got shivers.
And so did many people in the audience. Tears were running down on the cheeks and barely any words were said. It was speechless reciprocal communication between the mighty warrior and his fans at it’s very best.
It could also be seen as a moment where the audience sent a message for Garcia, one of the best players on tour never to win a major championship. It was almost like people were saying to this impulsive and passionate but enchanting and good-natured spaniard:
“Your time will come.”
“I’m thinking about picking the captain”, joked Tom Watson, the Ryder Cup captain of team USA, after making the cut at The Open.
He meant that he could join the team as a player and let someone else act as a captain. Of course, he wasn’t serious, though he almost could have been.
In Hoylake, one more chapter was written to an ageless love affair between Tom Watson and links golf. It is hard to put into words how good a ball-striker this eight-time major winner, five-time Championship Golfer of the Year (the traditional title for the Open winners) and a huge crowd favorite really is. At the age of 64 he beat a bunch of Ryder Cup candidates and proved once again that the game of golf doesn’t know how old you are.
I had never seen Watson hitting a single shot and decided to take some time to follow him. What I saw was remarkable. Watson averaged 272 yards from the tee losing to McIlroy by 56 yards. But he was only ten yards below the field average. He bettered the average with his GIR- and FIR-stats and matched them in putting.
On par three 13th, where I sat down for quite a while, Watson hit by far the best tee shot of them all, his natural, effortlessly controlled draw into the wind. He seemed to be focused and determined, relaxed and confident – all at once.
While participating in the long-lasting standing ovation surrounding the last green on Sunday, I started to think about the next Open Championship, played at the Old Course in St Andrews. I started to think if it was possible for Tom Watson to become the first player in history to shoot his age – in a major championship. It’s not very likely, but it’s not out of the question either…
Taking it easy
While representing a company, which is operating in a digital world, producing digital scoring services to be distributed all over the planet, I have a deep admiration for R&A maintaining the great tradition of these world famous, bright-yellow manual leaderboards. They are icons of The Open, and while being a bit funny and clumsy in our time where a delay of two seconds is eternity, they still have some clear advantages. For example, they don’t reflect the rays of the sun and are thusfor clearly to be seen from every direction and in any weather.
There’s also something fascinating when the plastic plates representing a player’s score related to par, are being calmly changed and people are anxiously waiting whether the player has made a birdie or bogey – or someting even better or worse.
But while saying this, the winds of change have been blowing across the origin lands of the game for some years already. Golf is going digital and so is the Royal & Ancient. While listening to The Open radio – which, by the way, can’t be praised enough – you could watch live video broadcast through the great The Open app with your smartphone. While sitting on your seat at the grandstand you could hear the voices, see the motions and live the best moments of The Open simultaneously.
In addition to these radio and video transmissions there was something else in the air too. The Open Championship seemed to be more relaxed, more easy-going, than ever before. The game, traditions and the privacy of the players were respected, but in overall it looked like the ancient game of golf didn’t take itself too seriously, as it a little too often has a tendency to do. There were all kinds of characters in the audience, sitting on their seats, lying on the grass, cheering, laughing, singing, enjoying. Taking photos was forbidden and a few troublemakers were led outside the gates, but golf fans were also offered a lot of freedom to enjoy the tournament in the way they preferred.
Golf was taken as a great, loveable, passion-inspiring game, but only as a game. It was taken as a great entertainment offering us some unforgettable stories to be told.