Castle Stuart Vindicated

27 June 2013: Graeme McDowell says: “…Castle Stuart probably hasn’t been a strong enough course the past couple of years.”

11 July 2013: McDowell issues withering climbdown.

14 July 2013: Phil Mickelson wins Scottish Open at Castle Stuart, winning a sudden death play-off against Branden Grace of South Africa.

21 July 2013: Phil Mickelson wins Open at Muirfield, winning by three shots. Let’s gloss over the fact that Grace (my £2.50 e/w punt) finished a mere 16 shots back.

Castle Stuart looks like pretty good prep for the Open to me – good job the Scottish Open is going back there in 2016.

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Scottish Open 2013

Golf

My dad and me in full Scottish Open regalia.

In the last year or so, I’ve tried my best to experience sport in as many different ways as possible. Having done the Olympics (admittedly just the football), gymnastics and been to see a football match in Spain, it was time for some golf. And this time, on the inside of things.

This year’s Scottish Open, as with the last two, was held at Castle Stuart on the outskirts of the capital of the Highlands, Inverness. As part of this, my father (let’s call him John, because that’s his name) was in charge of co-ordinating the various scoring volunteers. Therefore I was given the opportunity to spend four days walking around a lovely golf course with some of the best golfers in Europe while carrying a scoreboard, with three of those four days involving fantastic sunshine into the bargain.

The tournament itself had started with serious questions about the course and the tournament’s reputation. Graeme McDowell questioned the legitimacy and difficulty of the course, before very quickly climbing down after the European Tour (rightly) expressed their dismay with his view. As I heard a number of people say, McDowell not only appeared to be after a reaction and self-publicising, he also seemed to be doing down the ability of his fellow professionals.

That became particularly apparent on the second day when the cut was made. Having wandered round with Martin Wiegele, Ricardo Gonzalez and Steve Webster on the first day (receiving a ball from Mr Wiegele – he’s now my favourite Austrian golfer), I spent day two wandering around keeping track of the scores of Paul Casey, Branden Grace and Martin Laird. All three played excellently, and it was an absolute privilege to witness some top-notch golf from close up. In the group in front of me, Ernie Els was struggling and could only finish on -2, two shots shy of the cut mark of -4. The reigning Open champion was out of the warm-up for this year’s British major, and McDowell was therefore left to look rather silly.

In my view the tournament really came to life on the final day. Having had three days of light wind and bright sunshine and thus being able to get a relatively easy ride out of the Invernesian course, the players had a rather different time of it on Sunday. With only 5 players breaking 70, the wind and the cloud clearly played a part, with Castle Stuart demonstrating its potency as a tricky traditional links course. I went round with Nicolas Colsaerts and Hennie Otto (a South African) and again thoroughly enjoyed myself, Colsaerts playing an absolute beauty on the 18th from next to the hospitality tent (!) to within three or four feet, sinking the birdie putt for a 69.

Big Phil Mickelson won in the end, beating Branden Grace (a thoroughly nice chap) in a play-off. The weekend and the weather provided a wonderful advert for Inverness and the Highlands, with the competition being broadcast live on the States on NBC. The tournament organisers could also happily lay to rest the ghosts of the catastrophic weather in 2011, when the four rounds were cut to three due to the record rainfall and subsequent landslides. As for me, I greatly enjoyed wandering round for 4 days carrying a scoreboard and watching the golf. The Open at Muirfield gets underway tomorrow (Thursday) at 6:32 and should provide quite a weekend’s play.

Murray’s Wimbledon

Andy Murray

Murray with the Japan Open trophy in 2011 (Christopher Johnson)

77 years. Almost as long as Brooks Hadlen’s prison sentence in the “Shawshank Redemption.” Fred Perry’s Wimbledon win in 1936, against the German Baron Gottfried von Cramm, had hung over British tennis like a giant slumbering bat for more than three quarters of a century.

Now, after Sunday, when asking the question, “when was the last time a British man won the Wimbledon singles title?”, we can answer “a few days ago.” Dunblane and Scotland’s favourite son, as the whole world knows, beat top seed and world no.1 Novak Djokovic in straight sets, winning 6-4 7-5 6-4.

A simple straight sets match it was not, however. In `36, Fred Perry beat his German opponent 6-1 6-1 6-0, taking around 40 minutes to vanquish his Teutonic foe. Murray’s match, on the other hand, was almost exactly 5 times as long. In a match that ebbed and flowed, with both players breaking one another’s serve with regularity, crucial points were often decided by tiny margins.

For me a pivotal moment came at 4-5 and 30-40 in the second set, with Murray looking to enforce his break back of serve with a hold. He served an ace very near the the Serb’s left sideline which was allowed by the line judge, then inevitably challenged by Djokovic. If the ball had landed around 1 or 2mm further to the left, Murray may have had to put his less than convincing second serve into play on a break point. As it was, the game moved to deuce (as so many of them did in this epic tussle), and Murray held on, winning the next two games to take the second set.

At twenty past five, having put the citizens of this island through a bit of wringer in the final game, Murray converted his fourth championship point (having seen off three Djokovic break points). And what an incredible moment it was. 15,000 people in Centre Court, a couple of thousand on Henman Hill, three thousand in Festival Square in Edinburgh and millions round the country perched in front of their televisions (like me) went mental with delight.

His achievement is one that, for once, should not be played down. Murray’s win has to been in the same bracket as that of Bradley Wiggins’ Tour de France win in terms of the sporting achievement. Where Murray’s win reaches a whole new level is in the degree extraordinary mental strength and prowess that was required in achieving victory.

As Sir Chris Hoy said after Sunday’s match, “Andy Murray is British tennis”, and he has been as much since the 2005 Championships, when he was a mere 18 years old. Since then, he has improved year-on-year, with the expectation and pressure rising in equal measure. His personality and public demeanour was wrongly regularly criticised (and still is). Last year’s Wimbledon final, as was acknowledged in the excellent “Andy Murray: the Man Behind the Racquet” documentary, was something of a watershed in his relationship with the British public. That it took a man to cry in public in order that the masses started to like him says something about the fickle nature of the general populace.

He however took that experience, and turned it into firstly an emphatic Olympic gold medal, followed by a first grand slam in the early hours of the (UK) morning in New York last autumn. With all that on his back, the expectation, the groans that followed every failed first serve and the manic cheers that followed every point in the closing games of that Sunday’s final, he was still able to drag himself over the line and lift that famous golden cup. Andy, sir, I salute thee.

And as for a knighthood, as I’ve commented previously, silly precedents have already been set. If Nick Faldo deserves a knighthood for being a shoddy Ryder Cup captain and winning a few majors, then for a man who has laid to rest a ghost that had haunted British sport for nigh-on 80 years – in my view a knighthood is the least he deserves.