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God Save the Green

I was curious to know whether the sporran contained some form of libation. "Afraid not," Peace said with a wink. "It's where I keep my spare coins."

My playing partner, Paul Stewart, turned out to be a thirty-two-year-old amateur with a pale face, a stocky build and a taciturn though not unpleasant demeanor. He played out of Ladybank, an inland course west of St. Andrews that was listed as one of the four final qualifying sites for the Open. Paul was accompanied by a caddie who pulled his bag on a trolley, and by his mother, who looked like and carried herself with the understated grace of the Queen Mum. Oddly enough, we also had a gallery. It consisted of a thirtyish novice golfer and a sixtyish middle handicapper named Jim Morrison. I could not help but ask Morrison why they had chosen to follow our group.

"You're the last of the lot," he said.

First or last on the tee, it is critically important to get off to a good start in any eighteen-hole qualifying round, whether it be for the Open championship or the local city public-links crown. There is, quite literally, no tomorrow. One or two bad holes early on puts you in the position of having to play catch up with the rest of the field. And by the time you've started to regain ground, if you ever do, you're running out of holes. These facts of competitive golfing life were duly reconfirmed when I glanced at the leaderboard on my way past the clubhouse. Adam Scott had already posted a seven-under par round of sixty-five, tying the course record. There were also a couple of sixty-eights, a sixty-nine, and three seventies on the board. "I reckon seventy or better is the sort of number we'll need," Kenny allowed.

Happily, Renfrew seemed to be well suited to my game, which relies on finesse rather than raw power. Nestled between the banks of the River Clyde and the runways of Glasgow International Airport, the 6,818-yard, par seventy-two course was laid out in 1973 by the accomplished British architect Commander John D. Harris. Unlike St. Andrews and the rest of the Open rota, Renfrew is a parkland track, not a classic links. The fairways and greens are shaded by an arborist's orgy of trees and shrubs, including two transplanted sequoias. Most of the bunkers are shallow, low-lipped affairs rather than dungeon-deep pots. In short, it is as close to an American-style track as any local course could be.

Alas, both Renfrew's location and an otherwise welcome change in the weather conspired to dash my dreams of sailing through the relatively undemanding opening holes. To paraphrase Paul Simon, a good day in Scotland ain't got no rain; a bad day is when you lie in bed and think of things that might have been. The day of the Open qualifier proved to be one of the former, but I might just as well have done the latter. The sun had finally broken through the clouds for the first time in nearly a week, but the wind had completely reversed from its prevailing direction.

In my Saturday afternoon practice round, I'd played the first hole, a sharply rightward-bending 356-yard par four, with the wind at my back, and I had reached the green in regulation with a sand wedge from ninety-two yards out. In the qualifier itself, I hit one of my best opening hole drives ever and still faced an approach from 141 yards into what felt like a three-club wind. I choked down on a six-iron and punched a low draw that appeared for a moment to be dead on-line. My ball bounded past the pin and settled into a rut on the back fringe. Three putts later, I wound up with an unforgivable bogey five. I tried valiantly to regroup during the ensuing ten-minute wait on the next tee box. The second at Renfrew is a 485-yard dogleg-left par five, a must-birdie hole under any conditions. During my practice round, I'd gotten home in two with a smooth five-iron from 193 yards. Now I was heading into a wind quartering from left to right. Although I managed another solid drive, I was left with 225 yards to the green, which called for a hard-cut three-metal.

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