I apologise right now but I couldn’t help it. Before I could catch myself, the shoulders were back – Rory McIlroy-style – and I had broken into full stride.
The ball wasn’t even on the green, it had nestled in a rather tricky patch of rough just off the left edge, but it was no matter. This is what golfing dreams are made of. A strut down the 18th at Royal Troon with the Open Championship stands on each side in all their glory. It’s a memory I will treasure for the rest of my life.
The members will tell you that visitors tip their caps to the empty galleries, so swept up are they in the emotion and the moment. I managed to stop myself from waving to no-one, but every hair was up on my arms and neck. It was breathtakingly warm, but I had the chills. How did I end up here?
I think a colleague took pity on me. Although I’ve adored golf my whole life, my education of our island’s great links is limited to say the least.
I’m on a mission to rectify this as quickly as possible and the chance to interview Gary Player provided a fantastic excuse to chalk another course off my personal Open rota.
It’s a good job I’d spent 30 minutes with the Black Knight before playing, for I don’t know how my nerves may have held out if I’d arrived at the 1st to find the nine-time Major champion standing there waiting for me.
As it was, I felt oddly calm. Armed with a new driver that had been struck barely 20 times at the range two days before, I striped my opening shot and found my ball about eight yards behind that of the great man.
“What a fantastic swing!” he exclaimed.
I found myself blushing but blamed it on the hot sun. I parred the 1st and was exhilarated but was put back in my place on the very next hole. I learned two crucial early lessons at Royal Troon. Don’t find the rough and, whatever you do, don’t get stuck in the bunkers.
At Carnoustie, I’d taken a cavalier and risky approach to the sand but that is not an option here. Take a sand wedge, shift sideways and splash out. Despite flirting with disaster throughout the first few holes, I steadily accumulated points.
Then I came to the 8th – the Postage Stamp. I’d fancied having a crack at the famous hole. With the wind helping, it was no more than 100 yards.
My playing partner put his shot to five feet and bagged a birdie. My effort was somewhat less glorious. I thinned a wedge over the back of the green into the deep stuff and became yet another casualty of this devilish little hole.
Far from being downhearted, I found myself inspired. Suddenly every shot was pure. Fairways were hit, irons were struck with purpose. Putts fell into the hole. My caddie was brilliant. If I had him on the bag every time I went out to play I’d be well into single figures.
This is meant to be one of the hardest nines in world golf but I was scoring better than at my local club. The highlight came at the 14th and, again, I saved my best for Player. It was about 175 yards, into the wind, and I absolutely flushed my hybrid.
As soon as I heard the whoosh of the club through the ball I knew it was good. It soared in the air and dropped, lightly, about eight feet away from the flag. Player beamed.
I decided it couldn’t get any better. But it does. I’ve watched the scene so many times before. That walk up 18, the famous yellow scoreboards on the grandstand that tell you unmistakably that you are at the Open, the clubhouse in the foreground that gets bigger with every stride.
And now I was taking the same steps. I chipped from the side of the final hole, two putted and then added up my score. I’ve gone round the back 9 in 39 shots. I’ve managed to rack up 35 points on a course that will bring some professionals to their knees in just a couple of weeks’ time.
This was golfing heaven, and I’ll never forget it.
Steve Carroll was a guest at the Mercedes-Benz Patrons’ day. Mercedes-Benz is an official Patron of The Open Championship.