Reason: Ah, the warmth of Hoylake memories

MARK REASON
Last updated 05:00 23/07/2014
Rory McIlroy
Getty Images
DREAM COME TRUE: Rory McIlroy poses with the Claret Jug after winning the British Open at the weekend.

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OPINION: Blessedly fortunate to be living in New Zealand, there is not too much I miss about my English homeland. But as the wind and rains sweeps across the steppes of the Wairarapa, I find my mind warming itself on summery thoughts of hedgerows, the pub, warm beer and the seaside links of Britain.

New Zealand has many wonderful golf courses and, the rest of the world take note, we still get on with the game over here. Golf is played at the pace it should be played, and not as if it is some complicated geometrical conundrum.

But that said, for the most part New Zealand has decided that it has better things to do with its coastal land than turn it into a leisure park for men and women in strange trousers.

This is, of course, a grave mistake. There are noble exceptions such as Paraparaumu Beach. But you can't go from the Bay of Plenty to the Coromandel without ever setting foot off the linksland, as you can, say, from Glasgow to Ayr.

All of this makes the pictures of the 2014 Open at Hoylake, beamed to our front rooms, the sporting equivalent of a winter warmer. And although we may grumble about missing Sergio Garcia's eagle because of an advert for a home based on the principle of the battery cage, television really does spoil us in the 21st century.

Just before World War II, the revered Henry Longhurst was employed to commentate on the Amateur Championship at Hoylake. Longhurst perched himself on a knoll near to the 5th fairway and looked out for an engineer's white handkerchief, waved from the roof of the Royal Liverpool clubhouse, the cue to begin his broadcast.

Under starter's orders, the only apparent impediment concerned the fact that the match in focus had now moved out of sight. Undeterred by such a triviality, Longhurst gave ''an absolutely splendid and dramatic eyewitness account of the play, understandably interspersed with a good deal of the 'wish you were here. th. th.lovely view across the bay' sort of stuff.''

On returning to the clubhouse, modestly smiling in anticipation of a hero's welcome at such a consummate display of oratorical professionalism, an apologetic engineer told Longhurst, ''We had to fade you out after a minute or two on account of a technical hitch.'' 

A year or so later Longhurst had to broadcast to New Zealand about nothing in particular, because play had been abandoned at Hoylake due to a snowstorm. In the middle of July.

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We take our innocent pleasure a little more for granted in these technological times, but what golf fan could not still thrill to the various slings and arrows of the Open. The joy, the utter, sadistic, malicious, masochistic joy of links golf, is the way it lurches from the triumphant top of the sandhill to the cruel depths of the bunker.

It is almost now superfluous, as my grandmother used to say, to mention the name of David Duval in such a context. But what of Theodore Ernest Els, literally 'God's gift' to golf. Two years ago he won the Open Championship at Lytham, making off the with old claret jug just as Adam Scott was making sure the engraver knew that his name was spelled with a double t.

But at Hoylake Els became the chump, the goat, the goofball. He was just like the rest of us, a foozling hacker whose putter seemed attached to a high voltage car battery. On the first green Ernie walked up to a 9 inch (23cm) putt, waggled his feet a bit, and then sent his ball a foot (30cm) past the hole.

Ernie blinked and for one dire moment thought about back handing the return putt into the hole. He hesitated at the foolishness of it. And then, despite being of an age when the trouser waistline is gradually ascending above the navel, Ernie went ahead with his madness and left the green feeling more like the Big Queasy than the Big Easy.

Bless my soul if a couple of holes later the two-time Open champion did not miss another absolute tiddler. To our shame, the many of us who have walked the ground that Ernie was now treading, sniggered behind the sofa and felt a whole lot better about ourselves.

Even the great Bobby Jones, on his way to the Grand Slam, took a 7 at Hoylake's 8th hole (now the 10th). After two splendid blows, Jones duffed two chips and then 3-putted from three metres. As Bernard Darwin remarked at the time, ''a nice old lady with a croquet mallet could have saved him a couple of shots''.

But although links golf taketh away, it also giveth. Twelve months ago Rory McIlroy missed the cut at Muirfield with rounds of 79 and 75. As he came to the tee for his final round at Hoylake, some of the crowd teased him with a chorus of Sweet Caroline. McIlroy responded with a drive that seemed to touch the heavens.

Eight years ago Garcia turned up in yellow at Hoylake on the final day and was mocked by Tiger Woods who texted ''I just bludgeoned tweetie pie.'' 

Now Tiger was beating himself while Garcia was squeezing shots off the seaside turf like an old master.

Like J H Taylor, perhaps, the winner at Hoylake in 1913, when mighty winds tore the tents from the ground. Darwin saw Taylor hit a driving mashie into the teeth of the wind at the sixth stone dead. He wrote, ''I saw that shot and the glory of it so dazzled and blinded me that I have nearly forgotten all the rest.''

Memories of Hoylake will keep us warm a while yet

- Stuff

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