2004: Travel travails don’t trip DiMarco

Troon, Scotland

There are no sure things in golf. We’ve all heard that one a million times.

Even so, when I finally arrived here to cover the 133rd Open Championship, I was certain I was in possession of a sure thing. Can’t miss. A mortal lock.

Wagering on golf is big business in the U.K. during Open week. It’s legal. Caddies do it. Players do it. And sportswriters from America especially are attracted by its novelty.

My lock was Chris DiMarco, or, rather, anyone playing against Chris DiMarco. When I’d last seen him, he was sitting on a piece of luggage – not his – curbside at the Glasgow airport, face in hands, muttering, “I just want it to be Friday so I can get the hell out of this place.”

We both had just endured a journey from Orlando, Fla., that took 49 hours, rather than the anticipated 13. We were angry, frustrated and loopy. At least I had all my luggage; DiMarco didn’t.

So my first order of business after making the 45-minute drive to Troon was to locate the local bookie. That would be the Coral sports book on Dundonald Street, which was offering 11-to-5 odds on Rod Pampling to win his three-ball. Translation: If Pampling beat the other two players in his first-round pairing, DiMarco and Scott Drummond, a £5 wager would return £16.

Drummond, at shorter odds because of his Volvo PGA Championship victory earlier this year, didn’t look as attractive as Pampling, a more seasoned Australian who has made $1.5 million on the PGA Tour in the last 18 months. Surely either one of them could beat a guy who arrived only 13 hours before his tee time, who was jet-lagged and sleep deprived, who wouldn’t have the benefit of a practice round, who didn’t have his regular caddie, who had gone two days without swinging a club, who might not have anything to wear, and who hit town with a bad attitude.

Who could blame him? It was a trip he could only describe as “unreal.”

First, his afternoon US Airways flight from Orlando to Philadelphia was delayed more than two hours July 12 because of thunderstorms in Philly. Not to worry, since the 8:30 p.m. connection to Glasgow was late, too. Passengers on the scheduled flight to Scotland were advised that a maintenance crew was working on what appeared to be a minor problem with the plane’s septic system. Someone on the inbound flight to Philadelphia had flushed a blanket down a toilet.

As the delay stretched into several hours, and DiMarco and his caddie for the week, Chad Ibbotson (a longtime friend), watched baseball in a concourse bar, passengers were updated that the blanket was tangled in the mechanism that grinds waste matter, and a maze of pipes had to be disassembled to extricate the glob of fiber and feces.

DiMarco raised his arms in triumph when boarding finally began shortly before 3 a.m., 61/2 hours behind schedule. His relief was short-lived.

Boarding had taken place in a wishful effort to beat the 16-hour allotment for pilots to complete transatlantic flights. But the blanket problem never got resolved, and the flight was canceled at about 3:45 a.m. An hour later, after booking a new ticket and securing overnight accommodations, DiMarco was in baggage handler mode, pulling fellow passengers’ luggage from a clogged carousel.

“Nice preparation, eh?” he said, noting that he had visited Troon only once before, three years ago for a pro-am with Arnold Palmer and Gary Player.

DiMarco was booked on a British Airways flight to London, scheduled to leave at 9:05 p.m. Tuesday. It was four hours late departing because of an electrical system malfunction.

During the wait, DiMarco shrugged off his abbreviated practice rounds.

“Luckily, I’m not the kind of guy who needs a big amount of preparation,” he said. “I’m not a big ball beater.”

DiMarco acknowedged that the British Open “is not my favorite.” Nevertheless, he was looking forward to Troon after top-10 finishes in the first two majors of the year.

His attitude steadily soured, however, after missing his connection from London to Glasgow. The next available flight got him to Scotland around 4:30 p.m. Wednesday. His clubs made it, but the bag with his clothing didn’t arrive until the next evening. He played the first round in rain pants and a newly purchased Open Championship shirt.

He shot even-par 71 – including a triple bogey at the 11th hole – and beat Pampling by one, Drummond by two. He cost me £50. But being someone who lays an occasional sports bet himself, DiMarco understood my disloyalty.

“It wasn’t looking too great, obviously, getting here at 6:15 on Wednesday night,” he acknowledged.

But I’d overlooked the fact that DiMarco is a professional. He said his attitude changed “right when I got to the first tee, believe it or not. It’s still a tournament, still something I’ve got to concentrate on.

“I wasn’t going to come over here and not give it a good effort. My attitude wasn’t real good, but I do that. I might say things, but I don’t ever mean them. I don’t ever not try. If anything, it kicks me in the ass a little bit and gets me going.”

Hence our hero, off at 7:47 a.m., birdied two of Troon’s first four holes.

“If I would have gotten off to a poor start, a couple over through 3 or 4, then my attitude would have been worse,” he said.

Meanwhile, more savvy bettors among my colleagues had wagered against DiMarco over 72 holes. They cashed some big tickets, thanks to a 20-hole stretch – beginning at the turn Saturday – that he played in 12 over. After back-to-back 71s, DiMarco finished 78-76 to tie for 63rd.

“The patience, the frustration part of it – I think that’s what caught up with me,” he said. “If I was here a little earlier and prepared myself better, I would have been able to handle it a little better.”

Will he be in St. Andrews next year?

“We’ll see,” DiMarco said. “The good thing is, I have a whole year to get over it.”

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