My year in golf: Alistair Tait
The Afghan carpet salesmen did their best to lure me into their shops. I wasn’t biting. I was sure getting a Persian rug onto a British Airways flight would mean excess-baggage charges. Besides, I’m not the world’s best haggler. I don’t have a clue about a carpet’s value.
The best thing about my European Tour beat is getting to different cities around the world. I get to poke my nose in some interesting places. So walking around the carpet souk in Abu Dhabi was an experience I never thought I’d get when I was sitting in Miss Watson’s class in school in Scotland.
There were 48 carpet shops in the souk, which is basically one little square. The names were in garish signs, and I won’t even try to pronounce them. How they all survive is beyond me.
If getting a rug onto a flight was going to be problematic, then a pack of dogs and two wallabies was going to be even harder. Yes, wallabies. They sell wallabies in the pet souk next door to the carpet souk. Yes, pet souk. As a dog lover, I didn’t stay long here. Besides the wallabies, I counted about 30 dogs I wanted to take home.
Mind you, I’m not sure the wallabies would have adapted to the windswept, near-monsoon conditions that plagued the British Isles this, er, summer.
After 20 years in this business, I know to pack for every season when I go to tournaments - even in the middle of July. I needed every piece of wind/waterproof clothing I possessed this year.
I went from balmy Abu Dhabi to cold and windy Royal Lytham Golf Club. Gusts of 30-40 mph wreaked havoc on the field for the Lytham Trophy. Perfect for flying carpets.
In three layers, gloves and a woolly hat, I watched as Tom Lewis turned a three-shot advantage into a five-shot loss to Jack Senior. Average score in the final round was 79, 9 over par. So Lewis’ closing 82 actually was 3 over, in real terms. Off my 8-handicap, I wouldn’t have broken 100, not even with the wallabies and dogs helping find wayward tee shots. It was that brutal.
Lewis went on to win the silver medal as leading amateur in The Open. I watched Lewis quite a bit in amateur golf and was always impressed, but I began to have my doubts at Royal Lytham.
Lewis played the front nine in 42, but he wasn’t out of it, not in that wind. However, walking toward the 12th green, he turned to me and said: “I’ve blown this one, haven’t I?”
“No,” I said.
But his head was down and he bogeyed the 12th and 13th holes. I wondered then if he had the right stuff to make it professionally. He silenced my doubts at The Open, and in winning in his third professional start.
The Lytham winds followed me for the rest of the year. Unfortunately, so did rain. Plenty of it.
Anyone who watched the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart knows what “summer” in Scotland can be like. I’m fortunate. I walked the course on Monday of tournament week when there was glorious, warm sunshine. Then the heavens opened and washed the place away. Too bad. This part of Scotland is just so beautiful and deserving of a golf tournament. However, relying on the weather is always dodgy. That’s why I fear for the 2014 Ryder Cup. It might be the only match in history settled by one singles session!
The Open Championship at Royal St. George’s was a mixture of the same. Glorious on Friday, hell and damnation on Saturday. Friday saw me in shorts and a short-sleeved shirt. Saturday, I was in full rainproofs and what can only be described as a whaling hat. You’d have thought I was trying to catch Moby Dick out in English Channel as I left the press center.
No wonder Darren Clarke felt right at home.
Mind you, I was glad the wind and the rain came into play at the Walker and Solheim Cups.
The 10 Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup players were clear underdogs to the United States team. On another golf course in calmer conditions, the U.S. would have won this Walker Cup. However, the Americans couldn’t cope with the wind.
Jordan Spieth said it was fun playing in driving rain and near-gale-force winds. As we say over here, pull the other one! We’re used to this stuff and, believe me, it’s not fun!
Fun was had by the European Solheim Cup team in driving rain and wind in Ireland. Europe’s best women won for the first time in four meetings despite playing on a golf course that looked more Dublin, Ohio, than Dublin, Ireland. Quite how Ireland came to be populated by American-style golf courses remains a mystery to me.
The majors might have been brilliant this year, but for sheer edge-of-your-seat excitement, none come close to the last hour at Killeen Castle.
Next stop for me? Back to the beginning and the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship at the end of January. That reminds me: I must check the airline’s policy on carpets, dogs and wallabies.