Wednesday 18 February 2009

Troon 82 - My Bag Carrying Open

In pulling together the copy for the website and brochure Scotland's West Coast Golf Links you get immersed in a whole host of facts and figures, thoughts and opinions on the Open Championships that have graced Ayrshire's coastline. Prestwick's first in 1860; it's last in 1925. Turnberry and the famous Nicklaus and Watson Duel in '77 or Norman's victory in '86. For Troon there are obvious memories of Gene Saracen holing in one at The Postage Stamp, Norman's drive into sand at the last in the play off in '89 or Palmer's victory in 1962.

But the thing about an Open's memories are they are all so personal, they're about where you were at particular times not about what you saw via the BBC.

I remember following Norman at Turnberry in the third round in quite possibly the worst rain I've ever been on a course in; I watched Sandy Lyle at Troon in '89 (he was out of the running and out early) until the 17th tee then heard a roar for Norman's first birdie of his final round and changed allegiances and followed one of the most spectacular closing rounds of golf ever.

I had just sat down with my kids at the 5th at Troon's last Open when Tiger holed for birdie from the front right bunker. Kids just thought it was magic!

My own personal highlight though has to be Troon 1982 - just about to head off to college in Edinburgh and still a junior member at Barassie. The practice rounds were taking place at the course before Final Qualifying and I'd just missed getting a bag for Ed Snead which I thought might have produced a big tip! Anyway, I was introduced to this guy and off we headed to the practice ground - the guy was an amateur from Birmingham, Chris Poxon who I soon found out was brother of the Ryder Cup player Martin. I think if I'm being honest I was a little disappointed that I hadn't got a big American to caddy for but that was soon to change.

The Qualifying those days was 36 holes over the weekend before the Open finishing on the Sunday afternoon with a fair number of places up for grabs at each of Barassie, Western Gailes, Glasgow Gailes and I think Irvine Bogside. So first round was early morning Saturday as I recall and this guy just went like a rocket from the beginning. Bag weighed a ton - quite possibly weighed down by maybe 200 cigarettes!! - but Chris started superbly well and I think was three or four under after the first six holes, just burning it up. I'm pretty certain that he matched the course record that day - 64 or 65 something like that - but was certainly leader overnight.

Sunday's start is a bit hazy but it was clear that the pressure of being in the front was taking its toll. Par - Bogey - Par - Bogey replaced the par-birdie pattern of day one and lead to it becoming quite clear that by the time we walked off fourteen that things were looking grim.

Now this is the part that sounds apochyryphal but isn't, I clearly remember Chris, cigarettte in mouth, turning to me and asking what we needed to qualify! It was a little more in jest than perhaps Tiger may do but the question was asked and deserved an answer.

"Level three's" said I.

So Par Three Fifteenth ensued; "One down!" we agreed. Short iron, short putt, birdie three at sixteen. Iron off the tee, short iron, short putt - birdie seventeen.

Level threes...

Now eighteen's just about the same length as its predecessor so clubbing was okay and position off the tee as I recall was the problem. Can't truly remember where Chris was coming in from for his second but remember clearly where it ended and that was in the gentle hollow to the front right of the green which really wasn't ideal for a pin placed towards the middle right.

Anyway, you know by now where that ball was going to go. Yes pin out, ball starts rolling, up and in. All the way, never a doubt. Never a single question that he was going to finish 3-3-3-3 and qualify by a single stroke for The Open Championship at Royal Troon...

What was much more unexpected given that he was now surrounded by family and members from his club in the Midlands was when he came out having signed his card that he shook my hand, smiled and said, "We're going to The Open!".

So my memory of the 1982 Open Championship was as a caddy! As a teenager, the uniqueness of the experience did not dawn on me fully until later years but it was an experience never to be forgotten. Practice rounds with his brother and Woosy, par fives with fairways measuring less than five yards wide, new golf bag, clothing, gloves, balls by the box load, practicing beside Seve. Okay I was experiencing all this vicariously but I had a yellow bib and a pass for being a caddy and I was inside the ropes - and I could help myself to as many cans of Schweppes from the coolers on the tee as I could possibly carry!

In the end we were restricted to 36 holes, didn't make the weekend -don't think we broke eighty - but he did sink a sixty foot putt on sixteen I think it was. May have been for a double bogey but that didn't really matter - it got an enormous cheer and I was holding the pin!!

So thank you Chris Poxon, wherever you may be. It may have been Tom Watson who lifted the Claret Jug once more but 1982 was my Open!

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