Sky's Open week began with Nick Dougherty in a gazebo and ended with Nick Dougherty in a shiny studio. And Richard Hodgkinson didn't miss a single minute. Here are his highlights
A practice round was essential before the Open Championship, Royal Portrush being an unfamiliar venue with a number of blind shots to contend with. This doesn’t just apply to the viewers. The players must prepare as well, and the Sky Sports Golf cameras were in position so we wouldn’t miss a minute of Wednesday’s all-important reconnaissance.
In fact, from the moment the preceding Sunday – when Lewis Hamilton lifted the World Cup, despite Roger Federer lapping Ben Stokes and the ball deflecting off Valtteri Bottas’s racket for a 10-second pit penalty, or something like that – the armchair sports fan was free to focus on the Open. Any repetitive strain injury caused by channel hopping on Sunday could be eased. Tune in to Sky Sports Golf – or Sky Sports The Open as it was known for a few days – on Monday and the remote-control work was done for the week.
This was the first Open post the David Livingstone era. Our host, therefore, was Nick Dougherty in that gazebo borrowed from the local village fete, and shrewdly rebranded as the Open Zone. Despite the absence of tea or Victoria Sponge, Dougherty is a reliably hospitable host. After an hour of star guests dispensing wisdom in the Open Zone, the viewer was equipped to head out on to the course.
Wednesday’s play is not drawn, and the competitors have a chance to play with their mates. Hence we saw Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas giggling over something on JT’s phone, Matt Kuchar and Jim Furyk having a few bucks on their match, and Matt Wallace setting off on his own. The final act of the preview was to publicise starting times, featuring a graphic of players walking at the camera and, in Dustin Johnson’s case, taking out his yardage chart, thumbing through it while still looking at the camera.
“So all you need to do DJ is walk forward, take your yardage book out and make it look like your getting a yardage… got it?” …. 😂 pic.twitter.com/rS4F976jFU
— Duncan Carey (@DuncCarey) July 18, 2019
It did little to dispel lingering doubts about the World No. 2’s ability to read, but then that’s what caddies are for.
Over the course of a week’s viewing, there are, inevitably, phrases which lose their impact through repetition.
“Wonderful putt there from Jordan Spieth” conventionally tops this category, and in this bracket now goes “Rory Sabbatini – now Slovakian”. The first time this was presented to us, it seemed remarkable. By mid-morning on Friday we were mouthing along with the commentator.
Then there was the curious case of Erik Van Rooyen’s legwear. Trousers they certainly are not, but what exactly are they? This was not a question for Richard Boxall, but neither Trinny nor Susannah was there so Boxy ventured that they were “quite stylish”. Ultimately it was left to Tim Barter to ask Van Rooyen what they truly were.
“Joggers,” said Erik. Then, possibly aware of the deflating simplicity of his reply, he added: “I’ll get you a pair for Christmas.” Tim seemed vaguely pleased. Whether he really wanted a pair we will never know, but – despite the claret hue of Friday’s pair – they seem unlikely to be in the shop at Royal St George’s for next year’s Open.
The leaders were due off at 3.50pm on Saturday, presumably to take advantage of a twilight deal of some sort. This left gaps so yawning to be filled that we were treated to golfing netball. Our hosts for this were Wayne Riley and Iona Stephen, a recent addition to Sky’s broadcasting team. Not content with simply being Scottish, Iona is named after a Scottish island and gives every indication of having played her first chip and run across the delivery room floor.
The challenge, then, of lobbing off a mat into a netball bag, was intensely demanding. Despite Radar hitting the frame, the match finished, predictably, 0-0. We were spared a play-off which would have been anything-but-sudden death.
- Report: How Lowry landed the Claret Jug
- Opinion: Why Lowry is the winner the Open deserved
- Analysis: How the Portrush crowd roared Lowry to victory
- Leaderboard: The final Open standings
Hands up those who think they might have made it to the range for 7.30am the morning after Shane Lowry’s third-round 63? Where thousands wouldn’t, Dougherty did, and he was remarkably chipper about it. For some of us simply tuning in to the coverage at that time seemed quite an achievement.
The following 10 hours and 50 minutes held the attention, but tension was felt mostly by those with a vested interest, which included what was now routinely referred to as “the island of Ireland” and, specifically, Lowry’s family. “Spare a thought for Bridgie, Shane’s mother,” urged Paul McGinley. “She’s probably lighting a candle somewhere.”
Actually, Bridgie was at Portrush, so lighting a candle in that weather would have kept her occupied most of the day while her son was busy winning the Open.
The final putt was tapped in just past 6pm, almost 11 hours after Dougherty had welcomed us to the range, and approximately 20 minutes after the celebrations had started – though some time before their scheduled close.
“Shane, you’re not going to bed tonight, my friend, no chance,” warned Rich Beem. Dougherty, however, would be, for he was back in the Open Zone for The Verdict at 7.
He had had quite a week. As had we all.