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God Save the Green

Online Special: 2001 Qualifying Courses

Armitage Shanks. I hunched over in the gloom of the men's locker room at Renfrew Golf Club outside Glasgow, Scotland, staring down at those two ominous words stenciled across the top lip of the latrine. Alternating bursts of adrenaline and anxiety surged through my system as I found relief before heading out to qualify for the 2000 British Open Championship at St. Andrews.

"Who the hell is Armitage?" I wondered aloud with a sudden shiver. "And why's he got the bloody shanks now, for God's sake?"

If my plaintive queries would later seem patently absurd, they aptly expressed my unsettled state of mind at the time. Armitage Shanks is the name of one of the leading bathroom manufacturers in the United Kingdom. But amid my pre-round perturbation, I momentarily mistook Armitage for the surname of a fellow competitor, and fretted that I might somehow catch golf's most dreaded disease from the poor bloke.

I soon discovered that the madness attendant to a British Open qualifier is definitely as contagious as the shanks, and seemed to me quite unlike the insanity common to similar qualifiers for a U.S. Open. Why?Because, as an equally unsettled young man from Sweden gratuitously reminded me on the putting green, "The Open is the most important championship in all of golf."

While the lords of the USGA, the PGA and Augusta National might dismiss that assessment as a matter of opinion rather than fact, the historical record speaks for itself. Inaugurated back in 1860, the British Open, known to many simply as the Open, was the first and is by far the oldest of all the major championships. Annually contested on a rota of courses in England and Scotland, it is also the most international—and the most eccentric—test of golfing greatness. Past winners range from such bona fide hall of famers as Old Tom Morris, Jones, Hogan, Snead, Palmer, Player, Nicklaus, Watson and Woods to such star-crossed one-timers as Roberto de Vicenzo and Ian Baker-Finch. Only in the Open could a seemingly chumpish runner-up such as Jean Van de Velde emerge with more notoriety than the eventual champ, Paul Lawrie.

One could sense the uniquely ecumenical nature of the Open simply by scanning the scoreboard behind the eighteenth green at Renfrew. Along with a large Scottish contingent, the field included players from Egypt, South Africa, France, Belgium, Germany, Japan, Hong Kong, Sweden and Canada, and no fewer than eight golfers from the United States. Among the more prominent names were Adam Scott, the then-nineteen-year-old Australian prodigy who swings like Tiger Woods; Gordon Sherry, the six-foot-seven former British Amateur champion from nearby Loch Lomond; and PGA Tour veteran Robert Gamez, who mysteriously failed to show up at the last minute.

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