At the end of the first day of The Open, I went where very few people have gone before: To watch the last group in the farthest corner of the golf course
I headed to the grandstand behind the par-4 7th green on what was a chilly Thursday evening – I’d underestimated the temperature and didn’t take a jumper.
I was in pursuit of the last group of the day, but when I arrived, it wasn’t even the penultimate group.
I waited for two groups to pass and shivered every second as Hurly Long, Marco Penge, and Seungsu Han eventually arrived.
There were still lingering spectators here and there, as well as a smattering of marshals ticking the hands around their watches until the end of their shifts.
A group of spectators stood on a temporary platform of scaffolding in one of the gardens next to the 8th tee to provide a touch of raucousness.
But overall, peace reigned, and I enjoyed a rather therapeutic evening.
You could hear a pin drop and you had the freedom of the rope without standing on your tiptoes, peering over the shoulders of giants.
The contrast between different quarters of the course was astonishing.
As I stood on one hole virtually on my own, Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, and Justin Rose were surrounded by vast crowds and greeted by loud cheers just over a nearby hill.
Phil Mickelson garnered some loud support behind them too, while my group was roughly 100 yards away and playing in complete tranquillity.
Long brought the entertainment to the 8th green by holing a putt that looped around the cup’s circumference – a rare birdie on this tricky par-4 as one marshal commented.
I shamelessly took advantage of the freedom to roam in the next grandstand so much that I was asked to move out of someone’s way who I’d obliviously blocked for a minute or so.
While cutting a solemn figure in the seats behind the 9th green, I met Penge’s father who told me his son had just been married last Saturday to his new wife Sophie. A honeymoon in Hoylake you say?
He and Marco had a picture together at Royal Liverpool in 2006 when Tiger Woods lifted his third Claret Jug. I quickly learned the Penge family has a poignant connection with the famous Merseyside links.
He willed his son on and between each shot, he talked me through the complexities of the Challenge Tour and the toils of travel in Europe.
I was rewarded for my dedication on the 11th tee box with a stunning view across to Wales. It was a priceless scene that now has a proud place in my photo album.
As much as this part of my walk was fun, one thing became abundantly clear. How long was this group taking to play?
The trio took over three hours to complete 10 holes. This wasn’t helped by a brief search for Long’s ball in the thick stuff right of the 11th fairway (not to mention his tennis-player grunts when thrashing his ball out)
But what’s new here? As the sun began to drop, I didn’t regret my decision to join the final group.
In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Bring on Troon!
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