A Few Thoughts on St. Andrews

I’m in Glasgow as of today, tired as hell and at a nice reflective distance, and because I just spent the most fun week I’ve ever had covering golf, I thought I’d write a little about the non-golf aspects of my time at St. Andrews. I won’t be editing or polishing this at all, just a quick (note: Inevitably not quick) ramble about my time.

I flew in Sunday morning, DC to Heathrow, to Edinburgh, and I didn’t realize it, but Patrick Reed and team were on my plane. We orbited awkwardly around one another at the baggage claim (baggage “reclaim” as the Brits hilariously and correctly call it), and I was set to head for the train station when I saw a driver holding up a sign in the terminal that said “Mike Ryan.” I know Mike, and after accidentally having a real-life spit take where I got a bit of beer on him later in the week, I think I can call him a friend, but at that moment I saw an opportunity to mooch a ride. As it turned out, Mike had caught a different ride, and the driver, Calvin, offered me a free lift to St. Andrews.

We drove out of Edinburgh, and I tried to stay awake since I hadn’t slept at all and Calvin was very interesting. He gave me the tour of St. Andrews when we arrived in town, and right away I could tell I would love the place. There’s no mistaking it as anything other than a European city, and the reason is the stone architecture of the buildings downtown, as well as the narrowness of the roads and alleyways. Every edifice looms onto its neighbor in a way that feels charming and very old, and what might be claustrophobic ordinarily is lightened by the fact that there are secret passageways all around you that lead to courtyards and gardens and greens. The only place I’ve ever seen in America that looks that way is the north end of Boston, where Little Italy is, and it’s no coincidence that it was settled in the 1630s. The sprawl of the American landmass is evident in the town and city planning on a micro level, and in fact from my brief stints in the UK, that’s what I miss, is a sense of openness. Or I don’t miss it so much as I get the sense that if I ever spent an extended time there, it might drive me crazy—it shows how much your home influences you without you really knowing it. You can feel history metaphorically weighing down on you in the literal construction of streets and buildings, but for a week at a time, it’s just very impressive and unique.

There are three main drags in St. Andrews that run parallel to each other, South, Market, and North, and the golf course is off North Street along the North Sea. In typical British fashion, the pubs are mostly excellent while the food is mostly terrible, but though I spotted a Domino’s and Subways, for the most part, at least, the town has retained its character. Granted, that character has adapted in the past 40 years, and there’s a huge industry geared around selling things to American tourists, but I never felt like it diminished the atmosphere at all.

My main takeaway here is the surprising humility of the place. You hear about the Old Course so often, and in such reverent tones, that you expect a certain stuffiness to prevail. But it’s not like that at all—the course is basic in an impressive way, if that makes sense, the way it’s integrated with the town is really beautiful. You do immediately get the idea that this is an actual public course where people can play for a reasonable rate, and dogs are walked along the 18th fairway on Sundays, and the people see it as their club.

The best way I can put it is that St. Andrews is the opposite of Augusta National. At the former, the history speaks for itself, and there’s a common theme of inclusion and genuine niceness. Nobody has anything to prove, or any agenda, and you have to think it stems from the perfect co-existence of town and course. Anyone who has been to Augusta National, on the other hand, knows that you encounter a sad American wasteland a block outside the gates. Maybe that, plus the relative newness of the tournament, accounts for the pomposity and paranoia and exclusivity, which stands in such stark contrast to St. Andrews. Or maybe the people are just assholes. Either way, I found it impossible not to compare the two in my mind…they’re perfect polar opposites, to the point that it’s uncanny. One of my least favorite stories I heard over the week was that a group of journalists visited the grave of Old Tom Morris on midnight on Saturday (that part is cool, and I don’t blame anyone for going along) and Jim Nantz gives a speech at his grave with the same mawkish tone he uses on CBS broadcasts, without even a hint of irony. St. Andrews is not the kind of place for that bullshit—the Masters is full of phonies, so phony moralizing works there. St. Andrews is of the people and by the people, and it’s straightforward and practical and beautiful for its simplicity and history. It doesn’t need Jim Nantz.

I didn’t stay in town. Stephanie Wei, Jon McCarthy of the Toronto Sun, and I all stayed about a 20-minute walk away on Tom Morris Drive in a pretty ordinary flat that smelled faintly of mold, but not in a way I found unpleasant. It was a constant shitshow. Stephanie would wake us up every morning, including on Monday while I was trying to recover from jet lag, by yelling “are you guys up?” If she got no response, she’d climb the stairs (she stayed downstairs, we were up) and repeat as needed until I cursed her out…Jon was too polite. It was futile—Stephanie is immune to being yelled at, and eventually you just have to do what she wants. It’s like screaming at a toddler…it feels justified in the moment, but it’s pointless and you just feel bad after a while. (I say this more with affection than exasperation, by the way…)

So we’d eat cereal and bananas that Jon inevitably bought from the store while we were being thoughtless, and then we’d go to the course all day. Everything went by very quickly during the actual working hours, because with our schedules on east coast time (and my computer’s clock remaining there too), we’d work what felt like a full day and then realize it was 10pm and we still had an hour left of work. So we’d walk home to finish, and I quickly came to understand that Jon is a very good writer, but one who takes about four hours to write an 800-word story, while I prefer to cover the same amount of space in 7-10 minutes. When he finished, we’d go to the Whey Pat pub just before the West Port Gate (beautiful stone archway dating back to the 1500s, if I’m remembering correctly), where we’d chat and have as many pints as we could in the hour or so before they shouted “last call” at 12:45 and made life miserable for us until we left.

I meant to say something about the weather earlier. I walked with Spieth the entire round Sunday, and was outdoors as much as humanly possible, and had a 40-minute walking round trip commute each day anyway. It was autumnal in temperature, and spring-like in precipitation. In other words, cold and wet, and windy too. But I absolutely loved it. I got the sense that my northern European ancestry was coming out, trying to tell me that at least in a climate sense, this was where I belonged. My idea of hell was last year’s final round at the PGA Championship in the Ohio River Valley of Kentucky, with its disgusting, soul-killing humidity. It turns me into a sweat factory, and I’ll take the wind and rain every day if it makes me slightly less disgusting to be around. I even got wind-burned, which made me feel like a real ruddy Scotsman, which I enjoyed.

As far as what I wrote…my favorites were a “Tiger is done” piece that really made a lot of people viscerally angry, a piece on the plant and animal wildlife on the course and the secret wars with mother nature that the greenkeepers fight (this all followed a two-and-a-half-hour tour with the environmental manager on Saturday that was one of the most fun parts of the trip, but ps, I don’t think anybody read it because my interest in flowers and birds is not matched by most of the Internet-reading world), a quick Ben Martin story about his wife that I stumbled and executed under possibly dubious means, a look at Spieth’s mental alchemy process, and the Spieth story at the end about how close he came, which was just a blast to follow and write. And, now that I’m looking, I also enjoyed writing a DJ press conference analysis piece that I think was born out in his results under pressure, a primer on why it’s BS for the Euros to chastise us about calling it the British Open, and one where I followed John Daly around for four holes. That should keep you busy, or at least annoyed.

The week itself had a hectic feeling about it, but I liked it. It helped that I was sitting next to Alex Myers, who is very funny and with whom I shared an aesthetic about certain key topics, such as Tom Watson’s farewell. We ruined many very special moments for each other with a deranged kind of glee, and then we ate Indian food.

Later in the week, on Saturday, Jon and Stephanie and Alex and I met up with a crowd of real jerks, like D.J. Piehowski of the PGA Tour, Chris Solomon of NoLayingUp, Chad Coleman of Calloway, and Kevin Van Valkenburg of ESPN, with Mike Ryan making a much-appreciated cameo. Jay Busbee of Yahoo joined us the next night. I don’t want to get obnoxious about this, but it ended up being a pretty perfect combination of people, and we spent both nights laughing like jackals. It was one of those happy circumstances where we were very much on the same wavelength, except for Solomon, who I was surprised to learn was a 700-pound, 57-year-old man who wore a muumuu for convenience and kept saying “I’m No Laying Up on Twitter” to complete strangers. The rest of us were like the Algonquin round table, if the Algonquin round table only ever talked about Brooks Koepka.

I can’t say much more about our exploits, but here’s a picture of the gang from very late on Sunday night, minus Jon and Stephanie who were engaged in their 12-hour writing sessions, and Alex and Van Valkenburg, who had planes to catch and didn’t stick around long enough to be sexually harassed by a Scottish man named Neil at a night club called the Lizard Lounge:

TheChatPackAnd now it’s on to Glasgow, and a two-week vacation with my wife around Scotland. Other than the constant misery and anxiety and shame, life has lately been a gem.

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The sun

Earlier today I had to think of a name, and it came to me quickly. You can think of the delivery scientifically, synapses and neurons and chemicals and other things I don’t understand. Or you can construct a vision—the dark pathways that lead to the light. Nobody will want to credit the emotional truth, but in some ways it’s just as valid. I fell asleep on the couch today watching a TV show, which never happens. For a second it disentangled me. I was looking at a bookshelf, but the titles were blurred out because I wasn’t wearing my glasses and I can’t see that level of detail anymore. I woke up thinking, there may come a day when your brain stops responding to these commands. And in fact, I couldn’t remember the name I had to summon earlier, and I still can’t. I thought about making it up, but why disguise a failing like that? Why disguise any failure? The name was so minor, it didn’t matter. I can remember that it was a man, but that’s all. The context didn’t matter enough to stick. What mattered, maybe, was the thought that those paths could be blocked one day. I might not be able to bring the answer to mind. I might not even think to ask the question. Then again, I could go my whole life without losing that power. The delivery mechanism might slow, but I could enrich it in other ways. It happens to other people all the time, so why not me? So for a second I put the thought of change on hold. Everything is too complicated to make sudden decisions anyway, and I consoled myself with this thought of longevity.

The relief didn’t last long. The brain may never fail, but for sure, someday, the heart will. Where is your urgency?

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Tiger Woods Played a Good Tournament This Time

WEST VIRGINIA—Tiger Woods played a good tournament this time.

Before that, Tiger Woods had played a bunch of bad tournaments.

Before that, Tiger Woods played a whole lot of really good tournaments.

At one point, he had a lot of sex and crashed his car.

Tiger Woods is known around the world as a golfer.

We are not sure if the fact that he played a good tournament this time means he will have more good tournaments after this.

Buy my book.

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The Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Championship Introductions

George Shea:

Ladies and gentlemen, the Bunettes and the Bun City Dancers. Bun Boy Nation.

Are you ready?

Are you ready?

Ladies and gentlemen, in his rookie year he is already ranked no. 24 in the world. From Nigeria, now residing in Morill, Georgia, he’s eaten 34 ears of sweet corn. Six feet, nine inches tall, let’s hear it for Gideon Oji!

From Dixon, CA, 6 feet 2 inches tall, ranked no. 14 in the world, he has eaten 10 pounds of boysenberry pie. He won the Lincoln, Nebraska qualifier. Let’s hear it for Steve Hendry!

He struggles to understand the nuances of our culture. The difference, for example, between a butt dial and a booty call. But he understands everything there is to know about competitive eating, and he’s widely acknowledged as a tamale-eating specialist: 50 and one half tamales in 12 minutes! From Wichita Falls, TX, the great “Nasty” Nate Miller!

Ranked no. 12 in the world, from Cleveland, Ohio, 5 feet tall, 200 pounds, he’s eaten 31 Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs and buns in 10 minutes, Jeff “The Beast Man” Butler.

He was gifted at birth with a flawless memory. In fact, he can remember exactly what he was thinking at this precise moment 20 years ago to the day, from today, 20 years from now… which is right now, it’s today, it’s this second obviously, so he knows what he’s thinking. He’s thinking, “why am I hear listening to this guy? I could be in the Hamptons.” Ladies and gentlemen, from Visalia, CA, Pablo Martinez!

He is the lumberjack breakfast and French string bean-eating champion of the world. He was buried alive under 60 cubic feet of popcorn, and he ate his way out to survival, which is why he’s ranked no. 19 in the world by Major League Eating. The David Blaine of the bowel, the Evel Knievel of the alimentary canal, the Houdini of the Cuisini: Crazy Legs Conti!

He is a teacher from oxford, MA. He ate 30 and one half hot dogs and buns in his first contest ever, let me hear it for Geoffrey Esper!

From Chicago, IL, 23 slumburgers, 24 hot dogs and buns, 6 pierogis and 180 guillota, ranked no. 10 in the world, let me hear it for Juan Rodriguez!

He is entirely committed to competitive eating! He will do whatever it takes to win. Three days ago he broke up with girlfriend and euthanized his dog to leave a void of emptiness inside him that he could fill today with hot dogs and buns, ladies and gentlemen. The cannoli-eating champion of the world, with 32 cannolis in  6 minutes. A marathon runner from New York City, let’s hear it for Yasir Salem!

He has eaten 30 moon pies, he can use the world “dude” as a noun, pronoun, verb, adverb, adjective, and exclamation, dude. He is the beer pong champion of Phoenix, AZ. In fact, he is the king of all bros, the scion of the House of Bro. Ladies and gentlemen, son of D-Train, son of Steve Dawg, son of the Shermanator, son of Fitzmeister, son of J-bone himself: The great Brian “Dud Light” Dudzinski!

He is the spot shrimp and rye bread and sweet corn eating champion of the world, and yet he is most proud of his Scandinavian heritage, which he celebrates by shopping at Ikea, driving a Volvo, and cooking on a Viking Range. The no. 6 ranked eater in the world, who has consumed 34 hot dogs and buns, let me hear it for the great Erik “the Red” Denmark!

Ladies and gentlemen, the Matzah ball and green bean and donut-eating champion of the world. Are you ready?

He is the pop gurgitator extraordinaire
The one who weaves to the beat with the
no thought or care
Fridge empty, cupboards bare
The one that rips snacks out of school backpacks
Looking over your shoulder like Michael Jackson
He’ll be there, eating like pac-man
Digging into your candy dish, yo it’s a wrap song
Yo who be there? Badlands baby
No ifs ands or maybes, devour like crazy
He’s like the dog in the Looney Tunes baby
He gets the steak, he’s like what, no gravy?
Superhero with a fork and spoon
Trading like X-men in the danger room
He’s like a pirate, always procuring food, quicker than you, masticating like ….

Ladies and gentlemen, Badlands Booker!

Six feet, one inches tall, 200 pounds, 32 years of age. He is ranked no. 7 in the world. He is the crawfish eating champion of the world! He ate 36 dunked oysters down at Acme Oyster House! Ladies and gentlemen, let’s hear it for the man who can eat 33 hot dogs and buns, Adrian Morgan!

He was born outside of time, a witness to all possible realities. He was there when the sea and the sky were mixed together as one, and humans floated from the depths of the Pacific to the very edge of space, where they looked out at the stars in the blackness. He was there when druids walked the earth, and he watched as mankind built great cities, developed technology, and invented complex language with combination words such as “bromance,” “labradoodle,” “manscaping,” “frenemy” and “fratacular.” One man has witnessed it all, and of all times and all realities, this is his favorite here in Coney Island. Let’s hear it for the man of mystery, EATER X!

The no. 23 eater in the world, right behind his arch-rival Joey Chestnut, a man he has beaten many times. The bacon and birthday cake and frozen yogurt and gyro and twinkie and slumburger and pumpkin pie-eating champion of the world. Fifty-six hot dogs and buns in ten minutes! Many believe he is the future of the sport: Matthew Stonie!

(Baba O’Riley plays)

You know what this means. In a world of nothing—of barren hills and cracked earth and once proud oceans drained to sand—there will still be a monument to our existence. Bleached by the sun, perhaps, and blunted by time, but everlasting. Because this man represents all that is eternal in the human experience. The courage to stand for a nation when all others fail or turn away; the strength to recognize the value of freedom and to accept its cost, no matter how great. Through the curtain of the aurora, a comet blazes to herald his arrival, and his victory shall be transcribed into every language known to history, including Klingon! The bratwurst and pierogi and Hooters chicken wing eating champion of the world! Eight-time Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog eating champion of the world. The no. 1 eater in the world! I give you America itself! Joey Chestnut!

Let’s get the Bunettes up here…

(commercial)

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Friends of Tiger, Episode 19: Scott Michaux of the Augusta Chronicle

We’re back where we belong in our Durham, NC studio, and today we’re welcoming Scott Michaux of the Augusta Chronicle as our featured guest. Scott and I talk about the complicated figure of Bubba Watson, this week’s Travelers Championship Winner, and beyond Bubba, we hit on everyone from Paul Casey (we like him!) to Phil (he seems to like gambling!) to Jordan Spieth (how dare he not spend the next month at St. Andrews!). It’s a fun return to form with a first-time guest, so check it out!

For more stories from the PGA Tour, order my book, Slaying the Tiger, here.

We’re on iTunes now, mister. Subscribe to ‘Friends of Tiger’ here.

Download the mp3 of this episode here.

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Episode 18: U.S. Open Wrap-Up

Jordan wins! Dustin loses…and we’ve got one more short ep before we fly back home. Check us out!

For more stories from the PGA Tour, order my book, Slaying the Tiger, here.

 

We’re on iTunes now, pard. Subscribe to ‘Friends of Tiger’ here.

Download the mp3 of this episode here.

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Friends of Tiger, Episode 17: The Groupageddon

It’s night three of the U.S. Open extravaganza, and we’re back with the core crew of Jon McCarthy, Teddy Greenstein, Stephanie Wei, Michael Witmer, and ME. We’re one day away from finally getting some golf, and we’re talking course setup, USGA devilry, and the players we love. We also do a lightning round fantasy draft, and things get HEATED. And as always, we take unnecessary shots at Stephanie. The week rolls on, and we continue to gain in strength. The Groupageddon is upon us!

For more stories from the PGA Tour, order my book, Slaying the Tiger, here.

 

We’re on iTunes now, hotshot. Subscribe to ‘Friends of Tiger’ here.

Download the mp3 of this episode here.

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Friends of Tiger Episode 16: The U.S. Open Groupstravaganza No. 2

We have the whole gang from last night, plus Mr. Michael Witmer of the Boston Globe, and we’re chock full of new information gleaned from a Tuesday spent at the U.S. Open. It’s a solid half hour of near-madness, and the information will blow you sky-high. Enjoy!

For more stories from the PGA Tour, order my book, Slaying the Tiger, here.

We’re on iTunes now, hotshot. Subscribe to ‘Friends of Tiger’ here.

Download the mp3 of this episode here.

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Friends of Tiger, Episode 15: The Groupening

We’re setting a new world record with podcast guests today at a whopping FIVE. Teddy Greenstein (Chicago Tribune), Ryan Ballengee (GolfNewsNet), Jon McCarthy (Toronto Sun), Stephanie Wei (WeiUnderPar), and I are jamming with the first of a bunch of U.S. Open podcasts from Chambers Bay this week. All I can say is that it gets chaotic, and fast. Possibly too chaotic. Like the U.S. Open, it’s nice to have once in a while, but you wouldn’t want it every week. In the midst of the insanity, we do discuss the U.S. Open, and there are some actual intelligent takes. Enjoy, my friends!

For more stories from the PGA Tour, order my book, Slaying the Tiger, here.

We’re on iTunes now, mannnnnn. Subscribe to ‘Friends of Tiger’ here.

Download the mp3 of this episode here.

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The Golf Channel Videos

Here they are in one place, from my appearance Thursday morning, June 11, on Morning Drive.

General discussion of Slaying the Tiger:

Thoughts on Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy:

Thoughts on Bubba Watson, and the personality of other pros:

Gary Williams, Damon Hack, and Paige McKenzie debate the merits of the books:

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