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God Save the Green

That's when Renfrew's proximity to the airport came into play. Just as I reached the top of my backswing, I felt the club head being buffeted by the backwash from a low-flying 747 I had been trying to ignore. Instead of hitting the cut, I yanked my three-metal shot a good thirty yards left of the green. Adding insult to injury, I looked up to see, I swear, a passenger in the forward cabin of the 747 hoisting a can of Heineken and gesturing scornfully with his free hand in the direction of the rough behind the sixth tee. After a foozled pitch, I was forced to scramble to salvage a par five. For all intents, I had given away two shots to the field in the first two holes. The remainder of my round degenerated into a golfing version of the travails of yet another Paul, the embattled Christian saint. No matter how hard I tried to do well, evil seemed to befall me. On the par-three third, I tried to hit a gentle fade with a three-iron, only to produce a gentle draw that landed in a bunker. On the treacherous sixth, I tried to aim well away from the out-of-bounds on the right, only to hook my drive into the trees on the left. Having ballooned to four-over par at the turn, I tried to shoot for every sucker pin on the inward nine, only to suffer a sucker's just desserts in the form of an ignominious eighty-one.

My playing partner Paul fared much better than I did. He one-putted almost every green on the outward nine, but then inexplicably lost his touch and staggered in with a two-over par seventy-four. At the end of the day, both of us wound up in the same sunken ship as former British amateur champ Sherry and the more than one hundred fellow competitors who shot scores ranging from seventy-one to eighty-seven. Just as Kenny, my caddie, had predicted, it took a two-under par seventy to advance to the final stage of qualifying.

Adam Scott, who took medalist honors with his sixty-five, proved to be the only one of the twelve Renfrew regional qualifiers to make it all the way to St. Andrews, although the reserve, Brian Marchbank, also made it to the main event. Scott shot seventy-two, seventy-five in the first two rounds of the Open and missed the cut by three strokes; Marchbank shot a pair of seventy-fours and missed by four. Out of the original 2,030 who played in the regional qualifiers, only eight made it to the Open and only one made the cut: Lionel Alexandre, a Frenchman who finished dead last among those who played all four rounds. In the end, of course, Tiger smoked us all.

In The World Of Golf, as in the world of sorcery, three is a magic number. At the very least, making a three can never put you over par on any hole. And despite my discouraging performance at Renfrew, I was treated to three surprises that were magical in their own right.

The first came en route to a double bogey on the thirteenth hole when it finally dawned on me that I'd been swinging three times too fast all day. The next morning, I would carry that insight to Turnberry, and shoot a seventy-two in a thirty-five m.p.h. wind.

The second surprise came on the sixteenth when the threesome ahead invited us to play through while they searched for a lost ball, a courtesy almost unheard of in qualifying competition. As a result, though my group started last, we did not finish last.

The final surprise took place on the eighteenth, and was as heartening as the others, if a wee bit double-edged. As Kenny and I limped toward the home green, I pulled three twenty-pound notes from my wallet and tried to hand them over. But he refused. "I'm doing this as a favor," Kenny insisted, quickly adding, "Besides, I feel bad enough for you already."

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