Forget about any story line involving Tiger missing this week’s British Open. And forget about Kenny Perry’s Tiger imitation, racking up wins like he wears red on Sunday. The real question to start British Open week is: How fast can Rick Rhoden get on a jet to Birkdale, and how fast can I lay money on him to win it?
Like many of you, I used the middle-of-July/lazy-Sunday/heart o’ summer afternoon to eschew the PGA Tour stop at the John Deere, and instead focus on a tradition nearly as rich as The Open Championship itself – the celebrity golf that is the American Century Championships at Edgewood in Lake Tahoe. Nowhere else can one see Jim McMahon playing golf, barefoot, in outrageously unattractive slacks. For that, I thank NBC. I also want to thank NBC for keeping me up to date on Mark Rypien’s whereabouts, though if you saw the well-fed former Super Bowl MVP on the links this weekend, you’d know he’s tough to miss these days.
Think of the athlete-celebrity giggle fest as the ultimate study break before the Final Exam that is the British Open. When Thursday dawns and we get all serious and heady and romantic and poetic about the game’s oldest major, we’ll need to remember not to take it all too seriously. After all, the guy who did the “Carlton Dance” on the 1990 network sitcom “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” was participating in the Tahoe Long Drive contest just days earlier. That’s perspective for you.
As for Rhoden, the guy is the Hogan of celebrity golf. You play celebrity golf; you want no part of Rick Rhoden in your field. It’s like looking up at a leader board at Augusta National anytime from 1960-1986 and seeing the name “NICKLAUS” in the red. Plus, Rhoden wins these things while sporting a mustache worthy of Old Tom Morris. All that, and 151 career wins on the big league bump? Impressive.
With Rhoden’s putting stroke and McMahon’s toe jam already receding in our memory, let’s look ahead and make a quick Wish List for Birkdale, otherwise known as The First Major Without Tiger Since 1996, otherwise known as the Dial-Up Modem Era. Forthwith, Five Things We Want to See at The Open Championship:
1) Weather. Lots of It.
I don’t know about you, but nothing stirs the cockles of my golf soul like a good, stiff, sideways rain at the British Open. We’re talking horizontal liquid, right into your face while you try to find your ball buried in a pot bunker. It almost makes you want to play golf in a wool 3-piece suit, like those lunatics at St. Andrews in the 1750s. Or, in a kilt. Conversely, there is no bigger letdown than a heat wave during the British Open. If we wanted a heat wave, we’d watch the John Deere Classic. Vote ‘no’ on heat waves. Besides, we need the gray and the gloom and wet. It reminds all of us with Irish, Scottish, Welsh or English ancestry precisely why our forebears took the first thing smoking out of town and headed for the land of plenty.
2) Those Green Fixtures with Rolex clocks. Lots of them.
There are certain iconic things in sports: the ivy at Wrigley Field, the Green Monster at Fenway, or Brett Favre leaking word that he wants to un-retire. Add to that list those Rolex Clocks on the tee boxes at a British Open. They’re green, and… they tell time. And, well… that’s about it. I know, I know. It sounds silly. But the sight of a Rolex at a tee box with a sideways rain going, always sporting the telltale 8 hours ahead of Pacific Time, stirs the cockles of my golf soul. The British Open does a lot of cockle-stirring.
3) Ivor Robson to get a Port A Potty.
For those who don’t know, Robson has been the tee box starter at every British Open since 1975. He’s like Yankee Stadium P.A. legend Bob Sheppard, only with suspect dental work and an unusual, yet endearing, high-pitched British accent. Hearing the high pitch, some have speculated that Ivor has yet to hit puberty, despite his mane of gray hair. Robson is a beauty, an Open treasure quick with a smile and an “On the TEEE… from USA … Tiger Woods!” in his holster. Here’s the thing: His work day is about 12 hours, and he doesn’t take bathroom breaks. He takes pride in this. I say we pass the hat this year and buy Ivor a Port-A-Potty. It’s only human.
Can you imagine the Brit tabloids running with that story? The two guys most tortured by Tiger, last off the tee on Sunday at Birkdale. “’B’ TEAM TO TEE OFF AT NOON” might be one headline. Or, “NEARLY MEN NEARLY DELIRIOUS TIGER IS ABSENT.” Or, “WE WILL ROAST WHOEVER LOSES THE OPEN OUT OF THIS FINAL TWOSOME.”
5) Ernie Els to win.
Not only do we need it as fans of the world’s most mellifluous swing tempo, but also Ernie needs it. Ernie’s sanity needs it. Ernie’s psyche needs it. Ernie’s self-confidence needs it. The ‘Little Man’ in Ernie’s head needs it. Ernie’s wife, kids, extended family and shrink need it. Free Ernie Els! Win him another British Open!
Mulligan of the week
It’s too easy, but it has to be said. After watching (Sir) Charles Barkley make a move with his body over a golf ball that was almost kinetically impossible, I say: Give this man a mulligan… on every tee box!
Credit to the NBC wag that came up with the observation: “He’s got a hitch in his hitch.”
Broadcast moment of the week
“That reminds me – my twins are here.” – Ray Romano, introducing his twin teenage boys at the 17th tee at Lake Tahoe.
Rimshot, please! Romano dropped this pearl when he saw a female fan hike up her bikini on a boat docked near the tee box.
Syndication has been good to Raymond.
Scorecard of the week
60-65-70-73 – Paula Creamer, 1st place, Jamie Farr Owings Corning Classic.
Further proof that golf is the devil’s own game. Creamer won her 7th career event, her third of the year, and, by the end, all it seemed like was hanging… on… for… dear… sweet… life.
This, after shooting 60 on Thursday! You shoot 60, you shouldn’t have to sweat anything in this world. But for Creamer, 60 meant that 65 was 5 strokes worse. And it meant that 70 was 10 strokes worse. And it meant that 73 was a baker’s dozen worse and you wind up barely making it to the winner’s circle, on fumes. And she won.
Golf: Invented by Satan, indeed.
Where do we go from here?
To Birkdale, where we pool our resources and bid on the Rolex clock on the 18th tee box by Sunday evening. Somebody call Tiger. He’s got some spare change, and some time on his hands.