Don Thames, Rancho Murieta Country Club's golf pro, has filed occasional pieces about the experience of playing in this week's British Senior Open. Here are two pieces – before and after Friday's round. Photos are by Carole Thames.
By Don Thames, Rancho Murieta Country Club golf pro
Bridgend, Wales – I have been especially struck with the complete global nature of this event. Even though English is the universal language here, the various dialects are difficult to understand. I met a Scottish lad from the qualifying and he has become a caddie for another player. Billy’s brogue allows me to understand about 40 percent of what he says. At nearly 63 years of age, I am also taken aback by how young some of these 50-year-olds appear. I read earlier that there is a 1,000-pound bonus for low super senior (60+) after 72 holes. This is only a small incentive for me to make the cut. Spending two more days playing tops the list of reasons to stick around.
Last night we had no choice but to dine in the sports bar at the Vale. With pause, I ordered another hamburger. I specifically stated that I would prefer it to be rare. I should have known better. I spotted Costantino Rocca at a table in the corner by himself. Without inhibition, I joined him for a chat. We spoke in Spanish and he delighted me with stories about the golf course, his thoughts about caddies and his reasons for Italy’s lack of growth in the game. Mr. Rocca speaks five languages. He listed Spanish as his second strongest and English and French as his weakest.
He bought me a pint and I finally had to ask him about his legendary episode on the 18th at St. Andrews when he holed the long putt and dropped to the ground pounding it joyfully with his fists. Of course, John Daly went on to win and thus my trepidation in asking him about the affair. His answer was simple but not without a tiny bit of pain. “Destiny,” he said. Just then, Jose Maria Olazabal, Miguel Angel Jimenez and another Spaniard (unknown to me) stopped at our table, conversing in Spanish with Costantino. I waited my time and said, “Mucho gusto, Jose Maria. Me llamo Daniel" (my Spanish handle). I said the same to the others, as they were all gracious in our gathering.
Today, our starting time is the last of the day at 3:40. We were the last of the morning wave yesterday. I would want to complain about my lot in the draw but I should not. Mr. Rocca told me that he believed the cut will be around plus 11 or 12. Resting at plus 8 I believe that I can do it and must play a great game to do so. Hole number 9 was converted from a par five to a four at 458 yards straight into the wind. Some of these par fours are just playing like five pars as I simply cannot reach them in two shots.
I am sitting here in our hotel room looking outside at the wind and rain. Perhaps the morning boys will get a proper turnabout and have their chance to battle the showers. Yesterday, one of the members volunteers greeted us as the rain began to pour down, “Welcome to sunny Royal Porthcawl!” The members here are very proud of the golf course, as they should be. Although the playing surfaces are somewhat thin in spots, the overall condition is immaculate. The first cut of rough, unlike a U.S. Open venue, is often playable. The big trouble comes when you stray farther from the fairway to find heather, fern or gorse. We are setting out now to have a proper English breakfast, I suppose.
Cutting the TV tower's coverings to keep the wind from carrying it away.
Bridgend, Wales – To neglect reporting on the highest score of my career would not be very sporty. To call it ghastly would be an extreme understatement. The wind-swept sheets of water from the sea and rain from above managed to buffet and soak all in their forceful path. At times the wind speed reached 60 mph. From the ninth hole forward the rain and wind increased and the ball oscillated and moved on every green that was at all exposed.
After a four-putt on the second from 150 feet and a wait of a half-hour on the fifth tee, I knew the day would be long and punishing. We were in the last pairing of the day at 3:40 and without a doubt suffered the worst draw in the field as it rained all day and the wind increased in speed hole by hole. The most important putt I had all day came on the 18th. Purely from a numbers standpoint, the nine-foot downhiller was for an 89. The putt itself was straight but played directly into the fierce wind. I had to play the putt to a spot some five feet beyond the hole in order to reach it. Unfortunately, it failed to find the calm and cold bottom of the cup.
Even after a slow start, I rallied with a string of pars and a birdie before I approached the ninth hole. It is a par five of 468 yards for the members, converted to a par four. The tee was sheltered and all three of us misplayed the wind and sailed our drives into the gorse on the right. I went on to make a quadruple bogey 8, and from there it did not get any better. Carole informed me after the round that I went some 10 over par in a stretch of four holes. Another example of the extreme conditions came on the 15th hole, a par four of 458 yards into the wind. I had 115 yards for my third and played a small five iron. At one point on the 15th green, the television tower shuddered so hard with the wind that the material covering the scaffold had to be cut to allow the winds to blow through. Still quivering, one of the players stopped play and summoned a referee to ask for a drop out of fear for his safety. Eventually the marshals asked all his mates who were following the round to stand on the scaffolding until we had finished putting out. Enough of the bad news, as it pains me slightly to think about it. “Crying’s not for me, cuz I’m never gonna stop the rain by complaining.”
Thus, taken in perspective, I can be proud that I did not give up. Carole was there every step of the way and did her best to encourage me and served me something that was foreign to my caddie and playing companions: celery and Skippy Peanut Butter. This may start a new craze across the pond. She also fortified me with three nips of Jack Daniels Honey when things got especially tough. A long time ago, I learned to not get embarrassed about golf. With that in mind, the whole experience from start to finish was something that I only could dream of until now. The people we met were fantastic and I believe some will become lifelong friends. The golf courses were amazing. I have never played true links golf until now.
The round ended in darkness and was drawn out for 10 minutes shy of six hours. My caddie and concierge/agent, Dan and Kieron, led us back to the Vale resort in the night with a proper cocktail in mind. Both of the boys were entertaining and turned a regrettable scoring result into a fun and memorable evening. We all swapped stories over some pints and Jack. Finally, Dan played the piano and Carole and I danced. A good deal later, around 2 a.m., we retired.
We would like to express our sincere gratitude to all of our friends, RMCC members and the entire Rancho Murieta community for all of your well wishes and support.
Don and Carole
Dan and Don at the piano.