by Steven Leventhal
I've been watching the British Open (or as they refer to it across the big pond - The Open) for the past two days. As usual, DirecTV has great coverage with four choices - the ESPN feed, Holes 1 & 18, Hole # 17, and the International Feed.
My focus is on the ESPN International telecast. For one thing, I discovered that is has no commercials. Also the announcers use that very British, understated way. Not that Mike Tirico does a bad job of hosting, but I want the commentators to blend into the background.
The course. This year's Open is being contested at St. Andrews, considered the oldest known course in the world. It dates back to the 1500's, long before metal clubs, 300-yard tee shots, and ESPN. As a typical "links" course it has long undulating fairways, no trees, wickedly thick rough, cavernous bunkers, and giant hilly greens the size of Delaware. The golfers can and do putt from the fairways, and the balls travel uphill, downhill, and sideways. It reminds me of a putt-putt course. The only things missing are the clown mouth, Godzilla, and the windmill. One of the reasons the greens are so large is that fourteen of the eighteen holes have shared greens.
There is one other element in play; and that is THE elements. Cold, windy, and often rainy, St. Andrews is a real test of your golf mettle. In fact, it was so windy at one point this morning; play was halted for just over an hour. The wind can also be your ally. On the 18th, a 357-yard par four, many of the players have ridden the gusty winds to hit driver within putting distance, even if it's an 80-footer, of the pin. That's right - driver, then putter.
While the golfers may have been shooting a wind aided lights out on Thursday, today has been a different story, especially for the late starters. Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa benefited from an early tee time to shoot 67 to add to his 7 below yesterday to grab the early lead Friday. The big story for us back in the Colonies has been the play of John Daly. The often temperamental player, who has battled his inner demons for years, shot a 66 on Thursday, and is out on the course trying to prove it was no fluke. The colorful Arkansas resident won the Open in 1995.
All of this brings me to the real reason for today's column, and that was to list my favorite golfers that I have seen in person or on TV. Sorry Arnie. When I started to watch golf in the mid-seventies, you were already past your prime. I do like your ice tea, though.
1. Tiger Woods. No brainer. Love him or hate him, there's no question what he's done for the game of golf, tournament attendance, and TV ratings.
2. Davis Love III. Why him you ask? Well he went to North Carolina, where I graduated in 1982. He was a few years behind me, but I've always tried to follow his progress. Despite twenty wins and one major, he seems to be biding his time until he can play with the old geezers. He also taught Michael Jordan how to play.
3. Lee Trevino. He did a lot of same things for golf in the seventies that Tiger did more recently, by bringing in the common fan to the game. I met him once at a tournament, and got to chat with him for several minutes. Imagine trying to strike up a conversation with Jim Furyk or Stewart Cink today. Go follow them on twitter.
4. Phil Mickelson. I like "Lefty" because I am a lefty as well, not because it took him forever to win his first major, and he is a well liked player. Now he owns three Green Jackets and a PGA Championship.
5. Johnny Miller. Most of you know him today as the NBC golf analyst, but in the seventies, he was the best golfer in the world not named Jack Nicklaus. He had thirty-two tour wins, including two majors. He came in second at Augusta three times.
6. Jack Nicklaus Long before swing coaches, sports psychologists, and private jets, the "Golden Bear" racked up seventy-two wins, including eighteen majors. Tiger will probably catch Jack, but he set the modern standard for golf excellence.
Who do you love? Add your comments below.