If there isn't a little rain and wind, Luke Donald discovered on Wednesday, then it probably isn't British Open week. (Getty Images)
Auld Grey Toon set to add next chapter to its glorious golf history
Even with the whipping wind and biting rain, St. Andrews is a marvelous, mystical place that's been special for 1,000 years. Yet while little seems to change with any haste here, Melanie Hauser says, the player who best deals with the constantly changing conditions this week most likely will prevail.
By Melanie Hauser, PGATOUR.com Correspondent
ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- It was a perfectly miserable day.
Cold rain. A two-fists-choked-up-on-your-umbrella-shaft afternoon as you try -- operative word -- to control the only thing separating you from taking flight. Or turning inside out. Two layers -- maybe three -- underneath your jacket. An angry North Sea sending waves crashing along the shore.
Flags flying straight sideways. Screens bowing at 45-degree angles. A handful of frustrated seagulls searching for a dry spot to land.
Cue the grainy black-and-white films of Bobby Jones, the torn photos of Old Tom Morris and Harry Vardon and James Braid. Let your mind wander back to when the cathedral and the castle were grand sights here rather than ruins. When John Knox set hearts on fire for three days from the pulpit and martyrs were burned on the street by those loyal to the Church of England.
Conjure up lithographs of Robert The Bruce -- the Earl of Carrick, seventh Lord of Annandale and the greatest Scottish king -- who consecrated the town in 1318. Of those fishermen and shepherds who knocked a ball around a field at the end of the day.
Of a village that inspired the Reformation as well a game, a marvelous championship and a mystical course beyond compare; a town whose cobblestone streets and wynds that meander toward the sea and whose Medieval ruins inspire awe.
Of a seaside town whose moods reflect the North Sea it borders; of its nickname and the personality it took on Wednesday: the Auld Grey Toon.
It was supposed to be a day when this 150th Anniversary Open celebrated the past with the Champions Challenge -- a four-hole kickoff to the tournament where the crowds would be inspired one more time by champions like Arnold Palmer, Roberto de Vicenzo, Peter Thomson, Lee Trevino and Tom Watson and 18 others.
As the rain fell, crowds huddled along the movie-set-ready row of shops that line the 18th fairway, hoping to catch a glimpse of the few brave souls practicing on the worst day of Open week as they waited for word on the Challenge. When word filtered down that the event was cancelled, some tried to push their way into already crowded pubs near the course, while others simply waited to see which player would make his way to the first tee or 18th green next.
The cancellation? It was the second disappointment of this Open. The first was that charismatic Seve Ballesteros wouldn’t take one last trip across the Swilcan Bridge. Ballesteros, who is battling brain cancer in Spain, pulled out of the Challenge a few weeks ago because doctors deemed him too frail to travel.
Rickie Fowler tweeted a picture from his hotel room of the flags standing straight out. People paused at the shoreline to get a shot of the white-capped waves crashing onto the beach. Others ducked into stores to buy another layer, gloves, a new umbrella or a dry cap.
No one threw their hands up and headed for the train station in Leuchars.
St. Andrews, you see, is a magical place. A course carved out of pasture land where sheep and cattle grazed for nearly 1,000 years. A sturdy stone bridge where players stop for pictures as they wave hello and goodbye. A game that has stood the test for some 600 years; a championship venue where the best ever to play the game always seem to win.
It’s not an Open in Scotland without a little wind and rain. And whitecaps. If the tents don’t shake and the jumpers and waterproofs don’t come out … well, it’s probably nothing more than your normal wee dreich (miserable drizzling weather). And that means a nice week for the Open.
The players have already seen 50 mile-an-hour gusts (Sunday), perfect calm conditions (Monday) and bright sun that morphed to a chilly wind (Tuesday). Now this. With more rain and wind expected. Every day. Patches of dry, bright weather too. Emphasis on patches. Think small.
What does it take to win here? Talent, obviously. But it’s really all about how you adjust -- just ask anyone from Palmer to Jack Nicklaus to Ballesteros to the man who has won the last two Opens here, Tiger Woods -- to the course and conditions and whatever the combination of those two throw at you. And that just also happens to be the reason the best players of their generations always seem to win here.
Yes, the focus is on Tiger, who has a new putter and four days to find out if that’s the key to draining those putts he keeps missing. Can he become the first player in the modern age to win three Opens -- Old Tom won four at Prestwick and Vardon won three there -- at the same course? Or will Lee Westwood win his first? Will the British Empire, with seven of the top 16 players in the world, win its first Open since 1999? Ian Poulter, another guy looking for his first major, thinks so. The world No. 8 says it’s time for the Americans to move over.
U.S. Open champ Graeme McDowell wouldn’t mind winning back-to-back. And Phil Mickelson? St. Andrews is the Open venue best suited to his game and a win and that would be the third leg of a potential Grand Slam. Padraig Harrington is playing well enough to win a third Claret Jug and Ernie Els could win a second.
Another thought? Those irascible, talented kids Rory McIlroy and Ryo Ishikawa.
Given the past few days, the weather might be the biggest factor. Woods won his two Opens here on really decent weeks. Harrington won both of his -- at Carnoustie and Birkdale -- in bad weather.
It’ll be all about keeping it under any 30-plus wind gusts, out of the Hell Bunker and over the railway shed and into the fairway at 17. It’ll be about finding the right spot on these huge greens and getting those putts to fall.
It’ll be about adjusting and readjusting; about forgetting about everyone who has gone before you and playing your own game. About grabbing the opportunity when St. Andrews presents it.
But most of all, come Sunday afternoon, it’ll be another chapter, another tale, in a magical town that’s been home to the game for some 600 years as well home for that last 1,000 years of some incredible chapters in Scotland’s history.