My trip started from Reno, Nevada after trying to qualify for the U.S. Senior Open at Hidden Valley Golf Course. There had been two spots available for 42 players. I came in fourth, which was the same as last. Disappointed but not despondent, I was looking forward to my exemption into the British Open (I had earned an exemption from the Senior Tour money list). The last time I had an opportunity to play in Britain was in the late sixties when I played the regular tour.
I should have expected a bizarre trip when my flight was delayed going to Seattle. The only way I could play in the Senior British Open was to make my connection with British Airways there at 10:30 p.m. If I missed it I would miss my deadline for registration. U.S. Air to Seattle had engine problems; no other flights were available. I found one that went to Portland, then flew from Portland to Seattle, and arrived 30 minutes prior to flight time.
Naturally the British Airways flight was in another terminal. After some frantic hustle I jumped on the plane as the doors were closing. One problem, my baggage and clubs didn’t make it.
Great! What do I play with? British Air says, “No problem, they’ll be on the flight tomorrow and will be shuttled up, hopefully to arrive before the tournament starts.” This is not starting out well!
A 747 business-class window seat will be welcome. But my ticket is incorrectly made out; the travel agency has the seating correct on the agenda record but not on the ticket. So I get back row, middle seat, in the smoking section, and that’s that. “Sorry you have paid for business class but there are no seats available; you will be upgraded on the return.”
I don’t know if any of you have had the pleasure of sitting for ten hours in an economy section, middle row seat between a 260-pound Trans-Euro racing mechanic (chain-smoking Camel unfiltered) and a 16 year-old, son of a rock drummer for “Licorice and the Earshots,” (also chain-smoking–Benson and Hedges filtered). I can tell you it was very similar to being gassed.
If I could have gotten off the plane, I would have. Drinking was a thought, but I restrained myself and only downed a sleeping pill, in hopes of waking up thinking this was a bad dream. I guess the pill didn’t work for a couple reasons: the lack of oxygen in the air and Alorinsk, the mechanic, who downed as many Jack Daniels as needed to pass out about 3 hours into the trip, and snored in bursts so hard it shook the seats. His body was so big I couldn’t rest my elbows on the seat rests. Lippy, the rock drummer’s son, would not shut up. He told me his whole life history; everything from his new nose ring to how he birdied the eighteen hole at St. Andrews by hitting a three wood into the hole from 160 yards. He asked for my autograph and asked if I wanted to attend his concert and check out some babes. I felt so lucky; a great pair to draw a seat between.
London — my time 8 a.m. I’ve had no sleep but am anxious to register and practice (I don’t have my clubs but I could at least get to see the course) and get some sleep.
Now about the rental car… The travel agency again made a mistake with my reservation and I was booked for a Land Rover stick shift. No problem, I just wanted to get on with it. This car, jeep, whatever is like the ones you see on safari and it rode the same way.
On a three-hour drive on the wrong side of the road, shifting with my left hand and trying to negotiate a roundabout I was within a few miles of the hotel and course when it happened. I was in the inside lane of the roundabout, completely stopped, when I heard a crunch on my left side but didn’t see anything. It was about 10 p.m. I peered out of the other side to see what had happened and saw the remains of a mini-minor MG (a car the size of a large bumper car) flattened on the side of the road. The car was chartreuse with polka dots and the driver was a mini-skirted, high-heeled, well-endowed, teenybopper with spiked hair. She was as high as one can get, grabbing her neck and lying on the side of the road. I asked if she was hurt and she starts yelling at me with every swearword I know, and the crowd starts in and sides with her. I have a feeling this is not going to be very good.
One hour later, Constable Stanley Preston arrives, a 25 year-old weight lifter, clothing starch-pressed into military iron folds. He has a semi-penciled mustache; I can feel I’m up against it. Stanley immediately attends to Pricilla (“Call her Prissy,” she tells Stanley)– I may as well throw in the towel. 30 minutes later Stanley comes over and states that he is giving me a citation…and I haven’t even talked to him yet. I start to explain and Stanley says, “License, passport, insurance, rental documents, international license.” I have everything except the international license.
Stanley reads me my rights, explains that we must all go into Constable’s Headquarters, and that I am being cited. Prissy is now well and her hero has been, and will be, rewarded.
2:00 a.m. Papers are filed. I have the right to a lawyer but nothing can be done until tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. Until then I must be in custody. I plead my case with the British Open registration, invitee of the Royal and Ancient, etc. Stanley does not hear me. Desperation sets in. I’m not going to sit in custody and miss the tournament because I was hit by a drug-crazed-teenybopper in a go-cart.
3:00 a.m. Prissy is leaving; Stanley is escorting her home. I approach Stanley and inform him that I am going to report him to the consulate for improper procedures: no witnesses, no checking for alcohol, drugs, or open containers, and giving me no food. This was a real bad idea. Stanley is pissed, but I don’t care. I demand to see another constable and get my first break, as in comes Captain Bush, authoritative, 60ish, very proper, very British. He listens to my story, starts a chat with “stud-ly” Stanley and I can see it isn’t polite–the captain is a golfer!!!
At 5 a.m. the captain arranges a cash bail. Prissy says her car is worth 800 pounds and she has no insurance. Captain Bush takes $1500 in Travelers checks from me, proceeds with paperwork and says, “Believe me, this is the very best way out.” I believe him and I’m on my way at 6 a.m.
I arrive at the clubhouse at 8:00 a.m., unshaven and having been up for thirty hours. I register, explain my dilemma to the Royal and Ancient committee, borrow a set of clubs (mine are to arrive tomorrow, the tournament day!) and hit the course.
At 2:00 that afternoon I finally check into the hotel, crash, wake-up the next morning at 9 a.m. and am scheduled to tee off at 12:30.
By 10:30 my clubs have not arrived. I feel like a zombie (jet lag, bad) but I’m going to play no matter what.
At 12:00 my clubs arrive, half an hour before my tee time. The weather is beautiful.
Within that half an hour a storm comes in. The first hole is 208 yards, par 3. A one iron comes up short, and I hit it perfectly. I shoot 73, bogeying the last two holes, and had one of the lowest rounds in the afternoon. All of the leaders played in the morning. I was ecstatic with the round. Things are turning around.
On Friday I have a 9 a.m. tee-time and am looking forward to good weather, as it was on Thursday morning. Wrong! There’s another storm front right behind the first one and it is more violent.
This time I hit a driver on the 208-yard first hole. My two fellow competitors, Hugh Boyle, a Ryder Cup-per from Britain and Hans Hohnke from Sweden, cannot reach the green with their drivers.
By the 4th hole the storm intensifies and destroys my umbrella. Rain is covering the greens but there is no cancellation (“The show must go on”). I am drenched and cannot hang on to the club and shoot 40 on the first nine.
On the 10th hole the club slips out of my hands-O.B. The next shot I top. The following shot buries in a pot bunker. I hit it but cannot get it out. I hit the next shot backwards, but too far, into a dense thicket-unplayable. Now I’m really in trouble because I can’t drop anywhere–2 club-lengths gives me no relief. Dropping further back, keeping that point on my line to the hole, puts me in the trolley rails. I can only drop the ball and play it from where I started, back in the bunker. This particular pot bunker is so deep that one cannot do anything but hit sideways or backwards. I drop the ball in the bunker and it buries. I try to play sideways but it doesn’t come out. I try again and move the ball to the rough near the fairway. A perfect 5 iron flies over the green into a thicket. I chop out, chip up and two-putt. (Trivia what did I score?)
I would have quit at this point but I was at the furthest point from the clubhouse, so I decided to play on. 88 shots later I arrived at the Royal Lytham and St. Annes, circa 1896, clubhouse. The storm was gone.
A bottle of spirits, a quick flight home, and this nightmare was behind me. I arrived at Boundary Oak two days later, to the question, “What happened, why did you withdraw?”
Dumbfounded I said, “What?”
“You made the cut by three shots.”
The storm had caused many scores in the 100’s; last place was 2000 pounds or 4,000 dollars.