The silver photo frame on the desk caught the rays of setting sun. A memory frozen in time. A figure sitting on a sand dune, staring out to sea. Wisps of blown grass in the foreground and the distant seashore. And somewhere tucked safely in a drawer, the programme with a scribbled name, long since faded, on the front page.
The day had begun much as any other day.
The kitchen radio gave out traffic reports, interspersed with catchy tunes, the kettle boiled, tea waiting to infuse with the leaves plucked from the warm slopes of a tea station in Sri Lanka, bread browned in the toaster. The early weather forecast predicted an overcast July day. Slight precipitation, bright bursts of afternoon sunshine, before evening rain.
A rucksack packed with essentials. A shiny Thermos of black coffee, cheese and pickle sandwiches and crunchy red English apples. And the umbrella.
We left behind the towns and cities, bathed in the gray- blue light of dawn, and headed for the coast.
The car park was empty, the golf shoes tightly laced, the rucksack slung on the back. The only sounds were the skylarks, the chatter of caddies and the crisp strike of pristine balls. The breeze ruffled the flags, the undulating fairways lay in wait and the wispy links grass still wore morning dew.
The Open at Royal St. Georges, 1993.
The Open was originally a thirty six hole competition, played over one day and from 1860-63 the only prize was the trophy and respect of fans and fellow combatants. When Old Tom Morris won in 1864, he won the princely sum of a few pounds. Fast forward to 2007 and Padraig Harrington collected a purse of £750,000 for 72 holes of golf.
Practice day gives golfers the opportunity to plot their way around the course and familiarize themselves with the capricious bounce of the ball on the hard, undulating fairways. The caddies scribble in their books and throw extra balls to the boss on greens. Tees marked where the pin positions would be moved on each day of the championship.
An atmosphere of relaxed conviviality laced with anticipation and the chasing of dreams. The weekend crowds were still at their city desks and there was room to walk the grassy paths. Listen to the skylarks and catch the smell of the salt laced spray from the incoming tide.
We left the practice ground and waited for our group on the tee. A brother, sister and child walking the links and sand dunes at Sandwich. We watched the golfing greats tackle pot bunkers and marble fast greens. Watched them miss the monster trap on the fourth, carved from a sand dune. Studied the club selection as they played the far from fair Maiden of the sixth, battle Hades on the eighth and tangle with the Corsets on the ninth. They threw us smiles amongst the banter and signed the programme for the child with the shy smile and big blue eyes who said “Por favour”. Our group of smiling Spaniards. Willing to share their day and their footsteps as they hunted down their dreams on the links. Fast forward to late Sunday afternoon and the day and Claret Jug belonged to the Antipodean Shark who shot an unbelievable 267 over 72 holes. Rounds of 66, 68, 69, and a finishing 64. But if we had our day over again, we would have stayed loyal to our Spanish crew.
One among them had already written his page in the history books of Golfing legends. The youngest child of a farmer, he was not destined for the cowshed or bringing in the harvest. He hitched his wagon to a different star. He caddied for wealthy members at the local golf course and practiced with a club borrowed from his older brother, Manuel. He possessed the single mindedness of most champions or protégés. Un nino que caminaba solo –‘ a child who walked alone’. Except he walked with a three iron. The school desk was soon replaced by bag carrying and chipping into an old tin can. BIrth did not bestow upon him privilege or a silver spoon but his trusty rusty three iron would open the door marked Fame and Fortune.
He won his share of championships. Opens, Masters, Ryder Cups. He took on car parks, roads and rough from errant tee shots, played shots which fell like silken stars onto the green and rattled in monster putts. He would explain the occasion four putt as “I miss, I miss, I miss, I make”. A one man Spanish Armada, with a bulldog spirit, draped in the red and yellow of his country’s flag. Except he never grasped the concept of transigir – ‘giving in’, both on and off the fairways and often his inner demons stalked him in the shadows.
He courted both triumph and disaster. Elation and heartache. The dialogue of opposites. He had prophesised victory in the Masters of ’86, a win he would dedicate to his father’s memory. Such a prophecy offended the golfing gods. The championship slipped from his grasp after his four iron on the 15th found water. Victory and the green jacket went to the broad shoulders of the Golden Bear. He fought the PGA over decisions and slights, perceived or otherwise and his Mafia comment hit home. Perhaps he should have heeded the words of Al Pacino in The Godfather. Perhaps his father was too busy milking the cows to teach his son to ‘keep his friends close but his enemies closer’. They would have made some crowd. But for all his battles and demons, he wore his heart on his Sponsor’s kit, played the game in his own inimitable fearless way and for that he was lionised by the knowledgeable golfing Brits who followed him outside the ropes. Loved for his Latin temperament, fierce tenacity and Spanish pride.
In the end the grinding toil and long hours on the practice ground came at a high price, his days tinged with disappointment and pain as the game he learnt as a child slipped from his grasp. And the cruellest blow of all, to be given the short straw of poor health.
Long after the thermos was put away in the cupboard and the apple blossom came and went on the trees, the photo in the silver frame caught the rays of the setting sun. A blue eyed child, skylarks on the wing and a smiling Spaniard called Seve who carved his name on people’s hearts and the noble game.