Six of the top 10 finishers in the 2019 British Open were European players. Eight of the top 12 were Euros. Fourteen of the top 19 finishers play the European Tour.

Appropriately, Irishman Shane Lowry was the winner at Royal Portrush on the northern coast of Northern Island.

For the most part, American players looked out of their comfort zone, out of their element.

Rick Cleveland

Rick Cleveland

They most assuredly were.

American David Duval, a former No. 1 in the world, shot a 91. He made a nonuple bogey, a 14 on a par 5.

I know the feeling. Two years ago, eight of us Mississippians made the golfing trip of a lifetime. We went to Ireland and Northern Ireland to play seven world-class courses in nine days. We spent a lot of money, but we took a lot of shots for our money. We may have set a record: Most shots taken for dollars spent. It reached the point we would make our double bogeys and triple bogeys, make a short walk to the next tee, survey the situation and say, “Ah, lads, what fresh hell have we here?”

We traded a few dollars and beer bets back and forth, but the golf courses won every day, and it was not close.

For that matter, neither was this British Open close. Lowry, the bearded, burly Irishman, won by six shots. On Sunday, as the wind and rain blew so many Americans into golf’s version of Hades, Lowry seemed to look to the skies and the golf gods and say, “Is this all you got?”

In America, we don’t play golf in weather like that. We go to the 19th hole.

So many memories came flooding back watching the best American players go from deep bunkers, to dunes, to gorse, to heather and to other prickly grasses that will tear up you pants as well as your ego.

The wind blew our entire trip. After the third day, I asked the club pro at Ballybunion, “Does it always blow like this?”

His answer: “Ah lad, this is but a breeze today. This is not wind.”

At Royal County Down in Northern Ireland — the most difficult course I have ever played — we set what had to be a record for wardrobe changes during a round of golf. We seemingly experienced four seasons in four hours, going from cool, to cold, to warm, to wet, to dry, to warm again, to wet again and then shivering cold.

This was in June. I finally changed into and out of rain gear so often, I said, “The hell with it, I’ll just get wet.”

I got soaked.

Of the seven courses we played, Royal County Down reminded me most of Royal Portrush — the views of the Irish Sea, the elevation changes, the cliffs and the deep, deep bunkers. Our main concern in some of those bunkers wasn’t so much hitting our balls out, as climbing out ourselves.

Homefield advantage is an advantage in any sport — golf more so than others. Football fields, soccer pitches, basketball courts and tennis courts all have the same measurements, the same shapes and sizes. Golf is more in tune with nature, with the lay of the land. Truth be known, American tour players have an advantage over Europeans on more lush, manicured U.S. golf courses.

But in Ireland and Scotland: Advantage, Europeans. You can’t go over there for a week, or even two weeks, and get comfortable. Guys such as Lowry grew up playing links golf. He grew up playing in the wind and the rain, with the hard, close-cut fairways and the deep bunkers. Lowry even said it during his post-Open interview: “I just felt so much at home.”

Lowry, 32, seems a most noble and likable champion. The gallery clearly loved him. His fellow pros admired him, as well. The gallery sang anthems to him, even as he putted out on the 12th hole. By then, it was all over but the singing and the shouting and the celebrating — and there was plenty of all that. 

Contact syndicated columnist Rick Cleveland at rcleveland@mississippitoday.org.

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