Cold as it might now be, this is a fantastic time of year for golfers. July is the month of the Open Championship, the British Open or – from this year – the season’s final Major. However you think of it, it’s the centrepiece of the golf year.
But it’s hard work for those of us living in this time zone. While the television coverage now starts earlier and earlier, there’s no saving the fact that The Open broadcasts end in the small hours of the morning here. That detracts little from the spectacle, however.
I once heard a saying that insists: “If it’s worth watching, it’s worth watching live.” It’s a mantra I’ve long lived by, regardless of the hour. And even in these times of recording shows for easy playback, sport is still best consumed as it happens.
Sport is still best consumed as it happens
I was 15 when the 1991 Open rolled around, and my well-meaning (but perhaps slightly mean) parents permitted me to watch the broadcast during the middle of the night on weekends but not on the Sunday night/Monday morning before school. Despite my protests – “But Ian Baker-Finch is the co-leader, Dad!” – the ruling stood. I got up anyway and snuck into the lounge room undetected, only to be caught out by my dad at some point and sent back to bed. I watched the tape recording later but already knew that Finchy had won.
Seven years later, and living on my own and therefore allowed to set my own viewing rules, I faced a similar conundrum. The 1998 US Open was in San Francisco and the US west coast time zone meant a mid-morning finish on the Monday here. The upside to that was not such an early start to the day; the downside was: I had to be at work by 9 o’clock. I was relatively new in my first newspaper job at the time and didn’t want to stretch the rules, so dutifully showed up on time with a VHS tape recording the last three holes at home. I managed to make it through the entire day without hearing the result – imagine that today! – and returned home in the evening to watch Lee Janzen again pip Payne Stewart via a viewing process I came to refer to as ‘effectively live’.
In 1999, I went to work having not slept after the infamous Jean Van de Velde Open at Carnoustie went to extra holes and I figured there was no point trying to attempt sleep at 5am. Instead, I flicked over to the Davis Cup tie in Boston, watched it for an hour or so before showering, dressing and heading to work. Somehow, with a little assistance from Coca-Cola, I made it through the day without falling asleep.
There’s another phrase I’ve coined when it comes to The Open in recent years: the ‘nocturnal weekend’. One weekend a year, I’ll sleep more during the day than night and essentially alter my sleeping patterns in order to focus on the United Kingdom. I figure once a year won’t damage the circadian rhythm too much. However, the lone Open I’ve attended and covered, Rory McIlroy’s win at Hoylake five years ago, to me felt somewhat strange for the way it was conducted during the daytime – something I was not accustomed to.
I earned some chuckles on social media last July when, partly in response to the curious (but, I guess, marketing-driven) habit of players pre-revealing their apparel for the week, I countered with my own ‘scripting’, which included a hoodie, tracksuit pants, a pair of ugg boots, a tin of coffee and a block of chocolate. It is the quintessential Open viewer’s survival kit.
Non-golfers, or even non-sports fans, might think it strange that we’d wake in the middle of a winter’s night to watch golf. But those of us who ‘get it’ understand that it’s simply part of the currency of being a hard-core golf fan.
This year’s Open will hold even greater sentiment given that the championship finally returns to Northern Ireland, my grandfather’s birthplace, and to a course I had the privilege of playing in 2008. Royal Portrush is set to become an instant hit with golf fans who are yet to see it. Sixty-eight years have passed since the most recent Open there; it definitely won’t take that long to return.