ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – When you drive through Scotland, and for that matter the UK you are confronted with roundabouts, their version of an intersection. Each is unique in the number of options you may have as you exit the circle. And for a visitor like myself, the destinations are both mysterious and inviting.
On Monday at St. Andrews the Open Championship became golf’s version of a roundabout. If you took the first exit you were headed down a road to three-straight major wins, a possible Grand Slam and Ben Hogan. The next exit was a trip to Bobby Jones and an amateur winning golf’s oldest major. As the day progressed, and player after player, made a run up the board it seemed as though we would be spinning round that circle over and over again, with the exit signs changing by the hole if not the minute.
In the end we had the traditional three-exit roundabout with Louis Oosthuizen, Marc Leishman and Zach Johnson. And like Google Maps, shouting directions at the last second, we skipped past Oosthuizen and took A91 to Johnson.
This was an Open final round without a bad story possible. Some were more anticipated for the place in history they would mark. Some, like Marc Leishman, were more emotional for the personal redemption it would bring, a literal near death experience for his family during Masters week with a happy ending now already in place.
You could go from Jason Day literally rising from the turf at Chambers Bay to again fill out the membership form to join the majors club, to Sergio Garcia whose place in that club seems to have a flag on his application permanently saying, “unaccepted.”
You had Phil Mickelson doing what Phil does best, tease you with greatness and disappoint you with mistakes. It’s a rule of golf when your ball checks into Room 130 on the 71st hole of the Open Championship, your chances check out.
Some outcomes were more predictable. Paul Dunne’s dance with destiny was too improbable to lead to history. The young Irishman was not even the best amateur in his country, and his summer was about getting to the Walker Cup not the Claret Jug. Instead of making history he witnessed it first hand from the final group, and Oosthuizen’s birdie to join the playoff.
On Sunday Leishman said there were no bad moments in golf anymore since the week of the Masters when he had already decided if the viral infection that had suddenly ravaged his wife, and she failed to return from the induced coma, that he would give up professional golf and dedicate his life to the more important task of raising his two young sons.
We continued to learn more about the Texan who wanted to achieve like Hogan but made the statement he is tough like Hogan. Jordan Spieth afterwards wanted no concessions for a valiant effort. He admitted he needed to be one better and his own mistakes at 8 and 18 cost him what he, and probably all in golf, wanted to see stay alive. At the PGA of America and CBS they are rueing the missed birdie he needed at eighteen and couldn’t find because Whistling Straights would have become Belmont and American Pharaoh times four.
But the Zach Johnson exit has it’s own special outcome for golf.
He isn’t the Johnson the week began with. Dustin Johnson looked invincible with his massive length off the tee and his casual manner on the course. He is modern professional golf with a 300-yard plus profile. The game today begins on the tee and the macho stick, the driver. Forget artistry, this is the era of the ESPN Zone with flashy cuts and loud music.
To this observer a ‘Zach win’ is a little nostalgic at the home of nostalgia, St. Andrews. We don’t need Hogan or Jones or even the Morris boys to remind us of the beauty of the game and the charm of wee skills with which it can be played. We only need the centuries old links, clinging to its relevance with brutal winds and rain that seems to be assigned to fall on only the most critical holes and moments.
We were told by the experts that Jordan Spieth might be sacrificing history to honor his commitment to John Deere and not immerse his game in links golf at the Scottish Open a week prior. No one realized the Champion Golfer of the Year would be on the same flight from the Quad cities.
No one will ever put Zach Johnson in the same context of Ben Hogan, although he possesses the same pragmatic approach to the game. He was challenged afterwards about hiding behind a hat tucked low and sunglasses denying us the read in his eyes. His answer was a growing bald spot shielded from the sun and prescription lenses that, like shooter glasses, brighten the day that seemed to discourage spectators from arriving on Monday despite a ten pound offer.
We know in American politics that the coming election year begins in Iowa. We will hear from a list of candidates with their own roundabout dreams. But on an an odd Monday finish at the birthplace of golf we heard a value statement from a mannered gentleman from Iowa who allowed us inside his thoughts as he watched Louis Ooshuizan hope to push the Open to sudden death.
“Well, I was standing there. Honestly, I was reciting some scripture that I have in my book just to keep me in the moment. I was doing it all day, all week, and I was getting prepared for a tee shot on 18,” he said. “I had Psalms 24:17, which was, “Wait for the Lord” — now you’re quizzing me. “Be patient, wait for the Lord. Be courageous, be brave. Yes, wait for the Lord.” A nice way to exit the roundabout.
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