Loran Smith’s Sports Column: Hoylake
Published 2:11 pm Tuesday, July 18, 2023
With the Open championship (you see I am yielding to the Brits who
prefer—sometimes insist—that their national golfing championship, not
include the prefix British) taking place this weekend at Royal Liverpool Golf
Club on England’s West Coast, I thought about Royal Lytham and St.
Anne’s which is about an hour away.
That side of the country is where the late Seve Ballesteros made a
name for himself. The golf world had learned about Seve in 1976 when he
finished runner-up behind Johnny Miller at Royal Birkdale 30 miles north of
Hoylake. European writers knew about Seve and came to love him
because they embraced him as their own when the Ryder Cup team
became an all-Europe team.
What gave Seve preeminent status was his first major victory, which
came at Royal Lytham in 1979. His play was reminiscent of Arnold Palmer
who had a penchant for getting in trouble and then electrifying passionate
fans with brilliant recoveries and stunning comebacks.
It was at Lytham in 1979—where Seve won the first of his five major
titles, three British and two Masters—that he displayed his shot making
creativity. The 22-year-old Spaniard was leading by two strokes at Lytham
when he hit his tee shot into a car park at the 14 th hole. A car was moved
so he could get his free drop. Then he rifled his second shot to within
fifteen feet of the cup, making birdie.
During this exciting final round in cold, windy conditions, he was all
over the place. He wound up in 15 greenside bunkers the week of the
championship and got up and down in all but one of them. He missed the
last five fairways on his final nine holes. That became pretty much
standard for Seve.
I remember him regaling the British fans when he said at the closing
ceremony, “I play good from the rough. I have plenty of practice.” Seve
was always clever when speaking of his game, and he could always bring
levity and colorful commentary to any occasion. At the Masters in 1990
after three putting, he was asked how he, a great putter, could do such a
thing, Seve said: “I miss, I miss, I miss, I make.”
A passionate competitor, Seve had a fiery temper. You could hear
him shouting at his caddy, his brother, Baldomero, when they were on the
backside of the golf course.
When times were good, he flashed a million-dollar smile and
delighted the media and fans with his penchant for self-deprecating humor.
He was all business on the golf course, however.
I remember that tournament because of the low temperatures which
had everybody—fans and competitors alike—adding on an extra layer of
clothing, the coldest British championship ever.
For the tournament, I stayed in an old hotel in Blackpool. The
bathroom was down the hall but there was a lavatory in my room. To get to
the lavatory I had to crawl across the bed.
At Birkdale, I was able to book a bed and breakfast stay with a nice
family. At Hoylake I was able to arrange B&B accommodations at a college
which would become an option at future Open championships.
With COVID bringing about a retirement from crossing the Atlantic in
summer to see his oldest of golf championships, I don’t expect to renew,
but will always have memories of never missing this august British
There was more than the competition. With almost 20 hours of
daylight—in Scotland, you can get in 18 holes following an early
dinner—you still have time to write a few post cards.
It is the environment that enraptures one at this tournament. Fields of
waving grain, sheep grazing in the pastures, pubs populated by golfing
aficionados, some playing darts and always a solitary dog napping in a
corner, waiting for his master to settle the bill and walk him home.
The towns where the championship is played are all small, for the
most part. Two lane roads and bicycle paths abound, but somehow or
other it works. You might have to wait 45 minutes or more for your entrée,
at dinner but not to worry. You can always get a pint of lager or four or
more while you wait.