The Covid pandemic has been crushing for everyone. But within the confines of Royal St George's, as The Open got under way, Steve Carroll remembered what life used to be like
It began as a murmur on the tee, the noise rising to a crescendo as Jon Rahm’s birdie putt hit the bottom of the cup on the sixth hole.
The cheer that emanated out of that grandstand, and from the hundreds who’d perched on the Maiden – the huge dune that looks down over the green – left me with a frog in my throat.
For the first time in 16 months, I felt normal. Just writing that sentence leaves me welling up again.
Everywhere I looked were smiles. On the players, even those whose round wasn’t going to plan, on the schoolchildren there for a precious day out, and on the many thousands who swarmed the fairways, ringed the supermarket-sized shop, and stood cheek and jowl with a pint in hand in The Open Arms.
I don’t want to forget what we’ve been through in this pandemic. I know people who have suffered. I knew people who have died.
In those few hours, though, traipsing round after Jordan Spieth among the masses, and watching Justin Rose kick off another Open run, the life I used to have blinked back into focus.
The QR code that tells the steward I’m double vaccinated, and the lost mask that’s blowing among the rough, reminds me there is still progress to be made.
But sport provides an escape, a moment to forget, and this special tournament might be witnessing its most exceptional Open yet.
I’ve missed it all. The oohs and ahhs and the craning of a neck to get the briefest glimpse of Phil swiping it out of some rough. I’ve missed the expectation that ripples through the seat as you park yourself in situ and watch shot after shot arcing its way to the green.
It all seems so long ago that the head shakes, the fist pumps, the thumbs up and club slaps are all new experiences to be savoured.
Royal St George’s on Thursday was the perfect Open day. You can finally remove the asterisk and dampen the memories of 12 months of postponed disappointment.
It is glorious to be here and so bring on the next three rounds. Let life recommence.
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