OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP BLOG
By Denis Kirwan
A total of 2,500 media personnel (Press, TV, Radio, and Photographers) are accredited to cover the 2017 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale and the world-class media centre resembles the Starship Enterprise – with seven giant screens providing a range of different live TV feeds (Sky, NBC and World Feed) and detailed scoring statistics. There are 500 journalists in this tented area from all over the golfing world but Japan has a large presence with 134 media representatives. They’re absolutely crazy about golf in the land of the rising sun and the game has become more accessible since the price of an average membership in the Tokyo area plummeted from an incredible €300,000 in 1990 to less than 5% of that – €14,000 – at present. The thing Japanese golf fans covet the most is to see one of their own win a major and despite producing lots of talented golfers over the years like Isao Aoki, Masashi Ozaki, Shingo Katayama, Shigeki Maruyama and Ryo Ishikawa, a major win has as yet eluded them. Their brightest star at present is Hideki Matsuyama and his every move is eagerly recorded. There are almost as many media following him inside the ropes as there are fans on the outside. Should a Japanese golfer ever win a major in the future, he would eclipse Emperor Hirohito in the nation’s affections. Perhaps their long wait might come to an end this Sunday.
South Korea’s YE Yang became the first Asian to win a major championship when he memorably held off Tiger Woods down the stretch at the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine. Our colleague, Dermot Gilleece from the Sunday Independent, reminded us yesterday that another colourful Asian, Mr Lu from Taiwan, almost beat YE Yang to it by almost four decades but had to settle for second place behind Lee Trevino here at Royal Birkdale back in 1971. Mr Lu wore a distinctive pork pie hat and was famous for his collection of brightly coloured clothes that would have left our former Captain Bernard Hudson’s vivid collection firmly in the shade! Some of you may remember him and more of you may remember Mr Lu!
Another colleague, Philip Reid from the Irish Times, was the unfortunate recipient of a signed golf ball from Dustin Johnson as he was painfully struck on the cheekbone by an errant Johnson approach to the ninth hole. Philip was lucky that the ball didn’t hit him on the temple or the eye while Dustin was lucky it hit him at all, as his ball was heading straight into the middle of a gorse bush, which would have resulted in a likely double bogey. Philip could see the funny side of it and said if he was going to be hit by a golf ball, it may as well belong to the World No.1! It’s unclear if there was a shout of ‘fore’ and even if there was one it would not have been heard in the high winds. It’s totally unacceptable that some professionals don’t shout ‘fore’ when their ball is heading towards a crowd of people. In fact, it’s lethal. In fairness to Dustin, he later sent Philip a tweet saying he was glad he was OK.
The Open always throws up some memorable surname combinations that would make interesting three-balls. The one that stands out this year is Plant, Tree & Wood but not even the playful USPGA would dare to put that trio together while the commentary line of the day came from Sam Torrance. When Charl Schwartzel hit his drive into particularly heavy rough Torrance quipped “If Charl had wrapped his ball in bacon, not even Lassie could find it”
At the end of the day, though, it was the ever-cheerful Jordan Spieth who had separated himself from the field. Spieth has it all. Well, almost. One thing he hasn’t got is a claret jug and few would bet against him adding that to the Masters and US Open titles he has already accumulated. One man who might give him something to think about is the sole Irishman left in the field, Rory McIlroy, who has come back from the dead to lurk with intent. However, Rory will need to play inspired golf tomorrow and shoot the lights out just like his fellow Ulsterman Niall O’Kane did on Captain’s Day in Castleknock. I should know. I played with him.