Open Wide!

For those who think predicting football is hard enough, you should try picking a winner for The Open each year. That was something I was planning for this summer, but as my recent record in the former hasn’t exactly been exemplary, I’ve decided to stick with one sport for now. Besides, if you’re already struggling with one, you really shouldn’t make golf your bit on the side, especially not around the time of The Open Championship.

This famous, unpredictable tournament has become known in the past few years for making a mockery of the world ranking system, with the past three winners all ranked outside the top 10; Louis Oosthuizen was in fact ranked 54th in the world going into his 2010 Open win, which in the end turned into quite a comfortable victory for him. The past two winners, including this year’s victor Ernie Els, were over 40 years old, while Tom Watson lit up the 2009 competition by coming within a shot of winning it at the tender age of 59. Embarrassing for the younger players it may be, but few other sports give their athletes (not that I’m trying to say golfers are the finest examples of athletes by any means) the opportunity to continue competing at the highest level well into middle age.

Golf is a sport where experience can count for everything. In 2010, Rory McIlroy shot a record nine under par on the opening round, only to drop eight shots in the gale force winds of the next day. Had he been older than 21, with a few more tournaments under his belt at the time, these kinds of conditions perhaps could have been navigated…

…Or perhaps not. Of all the golf competitions in recent memory, the 2011 Open Championship was arguably the most bizarre. This time McIlroy went into the tournament as outright favourite, having won the U.S. Open a month earlier. Starting badly, he shot a one over par round on the first day, along with the world ranked numbers one and two, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood respectively, who joined him on the same score. Donald and Westwood would both go on to score so badly that they missed the cut at the end of play on the second day – showing that world rankings really count for nothing in this particularly difficult tournament.

The most curious thing about 2011, though, was the sheer diversity of competitors, both young and old, who found success on the course. Tom Lewis (at age 20) became the first Amateur to lead the Open since 1968 when he tied at the top of the leader-board at the end of play on the first day, hitting a score of 5 under par, which was also, coincidentally, the lowest single-round score by an amateur in history. Tom Watson (61) repeated his heroics from two years before, becoming the oldest player to play all four days of the tournament when most other people his age would have been looking forward to receiving their first pension package.

Eventual 2011 winner, Northern Ireland’s own Darren Clarke, was no spring chicken either. It took him more than twenty years of professional play and a total of 54 failed attempts, but at the age of 42 Clarke finally won a prestigious major.

But let’s be honest; the majority of you, my dear readers, probably don’t care so much about golf as you do for another particular sporting competition this summer, also beginning with an O, but finishing with an l, y, m, p, i, c, s, rather a p, e, n.

I refer to London 2012, and there’s so much I could say about it that I don’t know where to begin. The beginning wouldn’t be a sensible starting point, because that won’t happen for a couple of days yet, and I’m simply not that patient. Unless by beginning you mean very beginning, as in charting the point from when London won the right to host the tournament up until now, which I’m just not doing.

So instead, I ask myself, if London 2012 was a novel, what would be the prologue? It wouldn’t be winning the right to host it. It would be the whole atmosphere surrounding the event.

I got my chance to sample a piece of this atmosphere at the weekend, as I made my way towards my graduation ceremony in Portsmouth (sorry, didn’t I mention that…). Arriving at Gatwick airport, the excitement radiating around the place was electric. Different cultures were coming together more than ever before. I felt glad, and privileged, to have the opportunity to spend a few days in England, and London in particular, with this atmosphere surrounding me. It was literally like being on holiday, but in Britain. And that’s weird.

I’m spending the rest of the summer in Northern Ireland, you see, and frankly it just doesn’t feel the same way here. Our wee country may be part of the United Kingdom in many aspects, but land mass unfortunately isn’t one of them. I look at London and it feels…distant. It’s across the sea, and the only way I can be a part of the Olympics now is by receiving the broadcasts that I’d equally have received from China four years ago.

Am I being too fussy? Should I just accept the fact that Ireland wouldn’t win an Olympics bid if the world’s economy depended on it and appreciate that this is the closest we’re ever going to get? Yes, I agree.

This was probably the best possible year for a student in my position to graduate from an English university for that very reason, and that’s why I’m thankful for it. As for graduation itself, I’ll speak of it a little in the next post before reflecting on my entire last year at university. Some could say that the real learning starts now.



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