Editor’s note: Steve Bailey, Northwestern assistant coach, is writing a daily blog from The Open Championship, where he is caddying for Northwestern junior Eric Chun.
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ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – After a six hour layover in Dublin, Ireland, we finally arrived in Edinburgh, Scotland on Saturday and made our trek to the famed course, located an hour away in Fife.
The excitement was building as we began to see tournament signs and the fog increased as we neared the Old Course. It seemed like a perfect setting for our debut visit, mid 50s, rain and a steady wind of 20 mph. Of course that wasn’t stopping us from heading straight to the course.
Once we arrived at our home for the week, we quickly dropped our bags and walked the half-mile to the course. As we walked down the hill towards the R&A Headquarters (which sits directly behind the first tee and 18th green) we descended upon one of the greatest sights God has ever created: The Old Course at St. Andrews.
As we stepped on the first tee, both of us had chills running down our arms. The silence was interrupted by a few profound words from Chun: “Are you serious?”
As typical tourists would do, we both pulled out cameras and took a few shots of golf history. Before we ventured out on the course, we stopped to say hello to Brian Gay and his caddie, Kip, who were heading up the 18th green, in full raingear and winter hats. We introduced ourselves and they couldn’t be nicer guys. Kip, who also hit a shot into 18th green, was expressing his excitement about making par on 17 and 18 until he noticed that the R&A committee was conducting a meeting directly behind us in the board room.
“Whoops, sorry, Brian,” Kip said in his southern twang. “Me playing might have just cost you a couple grand.”
Eric and I ended our first evening, with a good ole’ Scottish meal – Fish and Chips.
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Day Two: We were offered a ride to the course each day by the player shuttle service, but Eric and I decided we would make the daily trek a part of our British Open routine. Walking through the University of St. Andrews campus, and by the local coffee shops, was a very cool experience. The folks in the town were super-nice and know their golf very well.
We arrived at the course and headed to the range to get ready for our 11:40 a.m. tee time. As you walk through the gates the range is lined with trailers from every club manufacturer you could imagine. I walked over to pick up range balls for Eric and I was amazed to see 12 different rows of different balls. Whatever ball you played, they had it. We saddled up on the range between a couple guys you might have heard of, Padraig Harrington and Vijay Singh.
“Well, just a standard day at the office,” I told Eric. It took him a while to warm up, often staring up and down the range in awe of those who were in his presence.
We played the first 14 holes of the day alone, getting a great chance to take our time, hit various shots and get acquainted with the 30-40 mph winds, with 50 mph gusts. We were joined on the 15th hole by Scott Verplank, his caddie, Scott, and his son, Scott. We were fairly confident we would remember their names. The wind was blowing so hard at times, your ball wouldn’t stay on a tee and would move in the fairway.
Verplank commented, “If this was a tournament day, we wouldn’t be playing golf right now.”
That was definitely a great experience, getting a chance to see St. Andrews with one of its treacherous elements.
We approach the Road Hole, the 17th at the Old Course, and standing on the tee you are looking directly at a hotel, with no fairway or green in sight.
“With this wind, just hit it over the right edge of the words hotel and it should turn back into the fairway.” said Verplank.
“OK, sounds good, says Eric, with a smiling uncertainty.
Just the type of hole you would expect to play at a major – 495 yards, par 4, with a blind tee shot, a bunker you can’t escape and a paved road you don’t get relief from.
We arrived at the green and with a backup on 18 tee, decided to hit some shots out of the Road Hole bunker and watch Verplank putt a few off the road. We headed over to the 18th tee as a large crowd approached the 17th green.
“Hey, Scotty, you mind if I play the last with you?” Tiger Woods asked.
Once again, Eric looks to me and dropped his famous line of the week: “Are you serious?”
Yep, just a standard day at the office, playing St. Andrews with the No. 1 player in the world.
As Tiger approached, Eric walked up, introduced himself, “Hi, I’m Eric, it’s good to meet you.”
“Hi, I’m Tiger,” he replied.
Eric, Coach Goss and I had a big laugh, saying to ourselves: Did Tiger really just say his name?
With the wind at our backs, and still blowing steady, all three players hit the back of the green on the 357-yard, par-4 18th, Chun and Tiger both hitting 3-wood. Chun, who got a nice read from Tiger’s putt, nestled it to 3 feet and tapped in for birdie. Tiger, who was left with a testy 7-footer, lipped it out on the high side.
And that’s how Day 2 ended: just a standard day at the office. Thru one hole: Chun, birdie; Tiger, par. Chun 1 up.