Reflections on the 151st Open Championship at Royal Liverpool.

A day after The Open at Hoylake, I drove north into Scotland in pursuit of a couple of days’ golf along the Ayrshire Coast, specifically at Prestwick and Troon, the latter being the site of next year’s Open. I was keen to play these courses with hickory clubs, especially Prestwick, the course and club where The Open was born. Driving through the small Scottish towns, you immediately note the absence of Union Jack flags, this symbol of national unity replaced by the blue-and-white Saltire Cross flag which denotes Scotland. Great Britain, properly called the United Kingdom, is actually rather loosely united.

Golf, though, a game born in Scotland but raised in England as much as Scotland, is a game shared not only across the ancient Scottish-English rivalry but across the entire planet.

Reflecting on Brian Harman’s sturdy play on the final day, I asked myself, what is the essence of being a fan of professional golf? Harman was basically unknown before that week at Hoylake. The British crowd was desperate for Rory McIlroy to win, Tommy Fleetwood being their next-best choice. Fair enough, you may say. Both players are British, or sort of Irish-British in Rory’s case. That’s enough for your standard Brit fan. He’s ours, they proclaim.

As fans, we attach ourselves to certain players for all sorts of reasons, some logical and some inexplicable. Cam Smith, Jason Day and Min Woo Lee are Australian. Hence, we tend to allow our minds to live within them as they play, each of their strokes magnified in our minds and emotions. Like many of you readers, I find myself doing this. Indeed, for spectators, professional golf events are a war of the emotions.

Yet I also deeply admire Louis Oosthuizen, even though I’ve never been to South Africa nor had anything to do with the country. I followed him on the Saturday for a while and enjoyed every shot he played (except the missed putts). His swing and movement through the ball renders one speechless with admiration. I admit I wanted him to win as much as any other player, probably because I loathe big-hitting, power golf. Some may say I lack patriotism in harbouring such thoughts, and they may be right. But in the 1950s and thereafter many British golf fans ardently supported an Australian player for the same reason: they adored the way he played. That man was my father. So fandom – if that’s an acceptable word in the English language – can grow from emotions free of sovereign national borders.

Professional golf has, since its earliest days, generated strong, sometimes volcanic emotions in fans. Young Tom Morris became so popular due to his brilliance (he had the first hole-in-one in an Open, among other feats) that the newspapers of the day began reporting on golf matches. They had to. He was so good he became the news. In similar fashion Tiger Woods became the news because of his dominance of the game.

All the above is probably not news. Readers know it and understand why it is so. The task of a writer is to awaken readers to their subconscious thoughts. The attraction of elite golf is that it shows us mere amateur players what we are not, yet what we dream of being, or what we dream our children or grandchildren might one day become.

I’m certain that Harman’s ancestors were Scotch-Irish, as the Americans describe the wave of immigrants from the Scottish Borders and Northern Ireland. Harman is tough, a gritty, quiet man who enjoys a fight and a hunt. The Scotch-Irish populated Appalachia and the southern American states. They manned the Alamo against the Mexicans. Some of these people boarded different ships in Glasgow and Belfast and settled in New Zealand or Australia. They took golf with them, along with fierce Presbyterianism and a passion for local democracy. Blending in with the Anglican, Catholic and Non-Conformist populations, they make us what we are today, leavened with later immigrants from Europe, Asia and India.

Watching the Open Championship this year and enjoying it, we ought to pay respect to the history and geographical diversity inherent in those men doing their finest out on the links. The top 10 places included players from across the world – America, Austria, Spain, Korea, Argentina, Australia, India and Britain. Sweden and Japan were close behind.

Our game is a modest one. We detest boastful, arrogant golfers. And we have something which should be an object of great pride, the inherent virtue of golf. With a copy of the Rules of Golf and a decent putter in hand, we bridge all the tragic gaps and ludicrous prejudices that human failings have contrived to create. At Hoylake, on a wet Sunday, that unheralded virtue was starkly apparent.