If it all gets too much for you in the US, you could do worse than come to Britain. I can assure you we will look after you. We won’t expect you to learn the intricacies of cricket. You don’t need to know where silly mid-on or third man or long on are on a cricket field or who or what the wicketkeeper is or does. And you certainly don’t need to know the difference between a “googly” and what once was called a “chinaman.” (Hint: they are types of what you would call pitches.) We’ll even give you a quick lesson in what to say should you meet the Queen. Answer: Don’t say “Hi, Queen,” and stick your hand out to shake hers as a caddie of Tony Jacklin’s once did. In short, we will make you feel welcome.
The thing is, Patrick, we admire your patriotism – your finger-to-the-mouth gesture shushing the European fans and your hand cupping your ear to listen for more applause in the past two Ryder Cups. But last week, you cemented yourself in our good books by flying to Britain to compete in the BMW PGA Championship at a time when most of your peers did not want to get on a plane. You risked being quarantined in Britain and thus unable to play in this important event on the European Tour and you risked being quarantined when you get home.
When you were here you said all the right things, too, praising the European Tour’s medical policies. This was clever. “I knew I was taking a risk but I thought it was a calculated risk that had to be taken,” you said. “When I got over here, I actually felt safer here in your bubble than we have at home. Once you get into the bubble here, you're in the bubble, and so once I knew that, once I got over here and got inside this bubble, I knew it was going to be a great week and safety-wise, it was going to be perfectly fine. The biggest thing was trying to get over here and make sure I got over here safely.”
“There are easy excuses for people not to travel at the moment. We are all using it as an excuse not to get on the plane and do things if we don't have to. Every credit to Patrick for showing up.”
This makes you the latest in a long line of American golfers who have flown east and come to appreciate the mother country, starting with the great amateur Bobby Jones who won the Open and Amateur Championships of Britain and the US in a glorious summer sweep in 1930. Remember the comments he made about St Andrews? “I could take everything out of my life except my experiences at St Andrews and still have lived a full and happy life,” he said in 1958 when he became only the second American after Benjamin Franklin to be awarded the Freedom of St Andrews.
Sam Snead rather spoiled the trend by being rude about the Old Course at St Andrews on first sight in 1946 and saying that he wasn’t going to return to defend his Open title because his expenses had been greater than his prize money. But Arnold Palmer more than made up for those egregious comments. By competing in the 1960 Open, Palmer revived it. Since Ben Hogan’s victory at Carnoustie in 1953 most Americans had declined to travel to Britain in July. Warm beer, no air conditioning, driving on the left, poor prize money. Of these perhaps the last was the most important.
“Arnold was the role model all US golfers followed,” Sir Michael Bonallack, a past secretary of the R&A, said. “If Arnold had not come over, the Open would still have gone on but it would not have been the prestige event it has become now nor the same interest.” Or as Colin Maclaine, a past R&A captain, put it: “Arnold was the jet engine that saved the Open.”
“My father made me realise how important (the Open) was,” Palmer said. “He knew what (Walter) Hagen and (Bobby) Jones had created by coming here (to Britain) and playing and that was big to him. He said, ‘If you’re going to become great you have to become great in the world.’ ” There was a time when Phil Mickelson did not subscribe to this view, though he eventually came round to understanding this and was rewarded for his change of heart by winning the 2013 Open at Muirfield.
The most articulate American on this subject was undoubtedly Tom Watson, who once said: “Britain is the last civilised country.” He got it right from the start of his professional career, competing in his first Open as soon as he could and having no obvious difficulty in coping with vicissitudes such as driving on the left-hand side of the road, rental cars without automatic transmission, and having to queue for fish and chips.
Watson appeared to be almost as much at home in Britain as he was in Kansas City and he was rewarded by winning five Opens, all in Scotland.
For an honorary member of the European Tour and currently the leader of its season-long Race to Dubai, this was a good performance for you at Wentworth, highlighted by your playing the par-5 last hole in 3 on each of the last two days. A total of 14-under par earned you joint third place, a cheque for $381,371 and the respect of peers such as Justin Rose.
“Patrick, I give him a lot of credit always for travelling and for playing as much as he does,” Rose said. “He's a guy that loves the game of golf and is full of praise for Wentworth. He came here last year, enjoyed the whole scene, the whole vibe, the whole tournament. There are easy excuses for people not to travel at the moment. We are all using it as an excuse not to get on the plane and do things if we don't have to. Every credit to Patrick for showing up.”
Golf is a singular game but it is not insular. Bobby Jones, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Lee Trevino all improved their games by playing in Britain and around the world. You are doing the same. Good for you. Travelling may widen the seat of your pants, as someone once said, but it sure broadens the mind and usually your all-round golf game too.