John Inverdale ends 30 years in the BBC radio golfing commentary box this year at Carnoustie. Here he picks 5 memories, some golf-centred, some not, of Open championships over the past 3 decades.
5. Some Open champions transcend the sport of golf, some barely register outside their own front rooms. Suffice to say that as Todd Hamilton strode round Troon in 2004 all of us in the BBC Radio team were scurrying to find any information we could about this anonymous American. Then suddenly, we remembered good old-fashioned journalism, and decided to ring the general stores in the tiny town of Oquawka from where he came, imagining it was this nowhere-ville place and someone there would be bound to know something about this mystery man. That one phone call didn’t disappoint. The guy who answered had known Todd from birth, was best mates with his dad, had gone out with his mother (ok not the last one) but basically put us in touch with everyone who had had any influence on Todd Hamilton’s early life. By the end of that final round, we knew more about Todd than Tiger. Sadly for him, and us, it is knowledge that has never been repeated on air as he was the proverbial one-hit wonder. But it was a great example of how radio scores over television. Impromptu. Immediate. Absurd. Just great fun.
4. Tiger. Just because to cover his career from the outset, and the days of ‘Have you heard about this guy’ to the current ‘ wouldn’t it be great if he could win again’ has been an extraordinary privilege because he has single-handedly changed many perceptions within the sport, and outside it. He also made me feel the size of an ant at St Andrews in 2000, when I was commentating far too close to him as he was putting. He stopped mid-putt, withdrew, and in front of several thousand spectators pointed his club in my direction and said calmly but forcibly to the radio man who thought he’d been whispering: ‘Hey buddy. Button it...’ I froze like Lot’s wife. He sank the putt, and I remained shrivelled and rooted to the spot as the programme producer squawked anxiously in my headphones ‘John are you alright, talk to us.’
3. Carnoustie 1999. Jean Van Der Velde. A genuine ‘I was there’ moment. It remains perhaps the greatest misjudgement by a sportsman at his potential finest hour. We talk about it every year at the Open, and will doubtless do even more so this time as we approach the 20th anniversary. But why? Why did he do it? And does he still wake in a cold sweat at 3 am replaying that shot, over and over again. An Open also notable for a lot of rain, and me being painfully inadequately dressed for the conditions, to the point where I appealed on air for a pair of fresh socks because my own were sodden. The generosity of the listening locals was bewildering. I could have opened a sock-shop with the amount of pairs that were forthcoming.
2. Sadly I can’t remember which open it was when I was stung on the leg by a bee live on air. All I remember is that it hurt like..., and the self-discipline required not to swear, amazes me to this day. I strode as fast as I could towards the tented village to try find a chemist for some anti-sting ointment, and was so focussed on my own suffering self that completely forgot the etiquette of golf, and marched across a fairway without even thinking to look if anybody was playing. It was then that Soren Hansen’s ball struck me full pelt on the other leg...
1. You always have a favourite moment in a sport, whether it be Federer-Nadal at Wimbledon 10 years ago or Johnny’s drop-goal or Desert Orchid’s Gold Cup. My defining Open memory will always be Turnberry in 2009 - my favourite course of all, but that’s by the by. One of the most enduring images I have of my late father is him sitting in front of the television in 1977 and as a lifelong golf fan and player, becoming more animated than I could almost ever remember, as Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson, fought out the ‘duel in the sun.’ And here was I, 32 years later, describing that same Watson, at the age of 59, about to win the Open for a 6th time on that same course. Not that anybody else cared, but for me, Watson’s renaissance was a very poignant link to the past, and there was a time, mid-way through Sunday afternoon, that I was 19 again, sitting at home with our dog draped over my lap, my life ahead of me, my mum saying ‘ I don’t know what you two see in that sport’ and my dad and I watching enthralled by two sporting heroes, one of whom was there in front of me, three decades and more later. That day, Watson gave hope to a million 50-somethings who’d long-since stopped hoping. Stewart Cink. Forgive me, but there are a lot of us that may never forgive you.