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Players brave horrid conditions at Old Course



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ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – From an easterly direction, the wind roared in, which brought to mind that old proverb about the day: ‘Tis not fit for man nor beast . . . but it’s OK for the Oda.

That’s because there went two of them down the 17th fairway. Koumei Oda to the left, Ryuichi Oda to the right, their hands in pockets and heads bowed to protect against a relentless rain and even more relentless wind.

If you offered wonderment as to why anyone would be out on the Old Course on this final practice day before the 139th Open Championship, you weren’t alone. So, too, did Peter Dawson.

“I can’t understand anyone going out to practice on a day like this, (but) they know better than I do,” said the chief executive of the Royal & Ancient.

Inside the warm and cozy confines of the locker room, Jeff Overton and Simon Edwards crossed paths.

Headed out to play, Overton smiled. “It’s supposed to be like this over here, isn’t it?” said the Indiana native.

Edwards, a club pro from Wales, returned the smile, and added a wink. “Welcome to summer,” he said.

Soaked and chilled to the bone, Edwards was asked to explain just why he had ventured out in frightening conditions. He explained that had he not advanced through local qualifying for this cherished event, “I’d have been working at the shop at Windermere Golf Club,” he said, referring to Cumbria, four hours south of St. Andrews and not the gated community where one Tiger Woods resides, “so there are worse places to be.”

Apparently, others agreed. While players such as Jim Furyk and Steve Marino chose not to play, many others did.

Jason Bohn, for instance.

A first-time British Open participant and St. Andrews visitor, Bohn wasn’t about to let pelting rain, 20-25-mph wind and 55-degree chill keep him from his appointed duties. Had this been the first day of competition, play would have gone on, so Bohn figured there were things he could get out of the experience.

“I figured it would be good to get a feel for this sort of weather and a wind we may face,” Bohn said. “It’s important to get a sense of what I could come up against.”

What Bohn encountered, as did Edwards, Jerry Kelly, Ryo Ishikawa and probably the Odas, was a string of shots that they rarely play on the American PGA Tour.

“I had 130 yards into the 18th (hole),” Edwards said. “I hit 5-iron, but didn’t have enough club. Should have hit 4-iron.”

Kelly said he was left with 167 yards at the 18th and hit a 3-iron that never left the ground. “Center of the green,” Kelly said with a smile.

Easily the most ferocious shot on the course was the tee ball at 17, the infamous “Road Hole” that is demanding in calm conditions, damn near impossible with a wind whipping left to right.

That brings into play out-of-bounds right and actually puts the Old Course Hotel in the line of fire.

“But I missed the hotel,” Bohn said. Then he paused and added, “right,” and laughed. His tee shot had been fired well left, with expectations that the fierce wind would push the ball right and into the fairway. Only Bohn misjudged and the wind carried the ball so far right it went so far out-of-bounds that it missed the hotel.

Edwards found the fairway but was a monstrous 230 yards from the green. Indeed, the hardest par 4 in the world was even more impossible in these conditions.

Still, competitors bundled themselves into rainsuits and hit the course. It was business as usual for many of them, but not so for the man inside the ice cream truck near the second tee.

“Very little,” said the man, when asked how much business he had had. Then he smiled and confirmed that at least he was comfortable, thanks to a heated truck.

Work conditions were not so cozy for the army of volunteer marshals. Buttoned up as best they could, they were still defenseless against the elements, yet hardly was a peep of displeasure uttered.

In fact, out at the 17th tee, the hardy Scotsman offered some promising news.

“The sun will be coming out,” he said.

Brilliant news. When?

“Next week,” he replied with a wide smile.

Laughs all around on a day that demanded the sturdiest of umbrellas and the warmest of spirits. But while the man’s sense of humor was a welcomed respite, it wasn’t quite accurate. In fact, weather forecasts call for marked improvement Thursday – mostly dry with actual periods of sun, followed by three days of respectable weather and only occasional showers.

In other words, play on – just have the weather gear handy.

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