It was the summer of 2002 and I was on my way to Muirfield as a newly minted journalism postgraduate to cover my first Open Championship for National Club Golfer. (I say cover – watch and drink in would be more accurate. We had no website in those days and the next magazine deadline was weeks away.)
We were renting a cottage in North Berwick that was available from the Saturday evening and I took full advantage, driving up that afternoon, ready for the final qualifying events running on Sunday and Monday at North Berwick, Gullane, Luffness and Dunbar.
I spent Sunday morning chasing around after the likes of NCG columnist Gary Wolstenholme, local hero Andrew Coltart, and Ryder Cup captain Sam Torrance.
On my way through Gullane, I thought I would call in at Muirfield, having never previously been further than those famous wrought-iron HCEG gates.
I was thrilled to find that I could gain access to the course and duly collected my press credentials. I was the first journalist on site that week and still have the pass to prove it: No 0001.
I wandered out to walk the course and followed American Tim Petrovic, of all people, for a few holes.
Then I caught a glimpse of an unmistakeable silhouette in the distance – it was Tiger Woods putting on the par-5 5th green.
There were no ropes and no marshalls – just Tiger, Steve Williams, Mark O’Meara, and Tiger’s entourage chatting and playing away. It turns out his helicopter had landed an hour before from Ireland and, like me, he’d headed straight out for his first look at Muirfield.
Tiger arrived in Scotland having won the the first two majors of the season and eyeing up a Grand Slam to go alongside the Tiger Slam he had completed the previous year.
I walked the next four holes down the fairways with him in awe at his ball-striking, from as close up as if I were his playing partner.
Looking back towards the clubhouse, I could see more and more fans heading our way, first a couple and then in their dozens, as word got round.
Eventually, as we approached the 9th green, the marshalls arrived in horror with their ropes and ushered us off the pristine turf. The exhibition was over.
Six days later, I watched Tiger’s Grand Slam hopes get wrecked by the infamous Muirfield Storm and was part of a throng of journalists who went to interview him greenside, drenched and shivering, immediately following his 81.
Ernie Els would eventually lift the Claret Jug and I was there for his champion’s Monday press conference, but my memories of that week – sorry 10 days – in East Lothian will always be dominated by Tiger.
Do you have any standout memories from attending golf events? Let me know in the comments below or you can tweet me.
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