Commentary: From Royal St. George’s, with love

R&A chief Peter Dawson with the Claret Jug.

Peter Dawson, chief executive of the Royal & Ancient, is a no-nonsense kind of guy. I doubt anybody calls him Pete. Surely his playing partners don’t hail him by some unceremonious nickname such as Fat Shot Dawson.

Always ready for a verbal tug-of-war, Dawson can stare a hole in his rivals with those laser eyes of his. Furthermore, he has an angular jaw that sticks out prominently, inviting his rivals to take a figurative swing.

Except that Dawson invariably is one step ahead of his adversaries. This includes the media, for Dawson takes particular delight in a conversational triumph over any accomplished journalist.

I won’t say Dawson is responsible for my misadventure at the 2003 Open Championship, but it has occurred to me he would laugh heartily at my plight. There I was, full of pompous insights and superfluous explanations, at the mercy of an English farmer fortified by few words and many bullets.

Writers at the 2003 Open Championship were given a special pass, allowing them to travel between the town of Sandwich and the Royal St. George’s golf course on a one-lane road along the seashore.

Otherwise, it would have been necessary to follow a circuitous route on major roadways.

I was driving a rental van on that road early Monday morning after the Championship, after I had concluded my writing shortly before midnight and returned to our rental house to get some sleep.

My fellow Golfweek writers remained at the course several more hours, finishing their stories. I was headed back to pick them up. The sun was about to rise, and it promised to be a warm summer day in southern England.

A few miles down the narrow road, a farmer with a gun stepped into my path. He waved the weapon at me. The gesture was clear enough: Stop or I will inflict some double bogeys on your personage.

The farmer wanted money.

“But I’m a writer for an important American golf magazine,” I huffed. “I’ve been using this road all week. See, here’s my pass.”

The response was blunt: “Your pass has expired. I don’t care about your magazine. I rented the road for the week of the tournament, and that agreement ended when Sunday ended. Now I am collecting money, just like I always do.”

I didn’t know if I had my wallet. I didn’t know if I had any money. I reached for my back pocket.

Being bullied by a man in overalls, I was intensely experiencing a major as never before. I could see the headlines: Writer shanghaied by farmer, forced to clean up cow manure to pay his road toll.

I wanted to ask him a question: Are you related to Peter Dawson?

Good sense prevailed, and I remained silent. I had lost this little confrontation. Locating my billfold, I handed the farmer a five-pound note. Cautiously I drove on, looking for a long time in the rear view mirror, reminding myself the world is full of people who care obsessively about things other than golf.

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