These guys definitely owe Rollins a few pints now.
With the Open returning to Massachusetts this week, I thought this was the perfect opportunity to convince my editors to feed their ever-growing golf addiction. In the past year, I I hired a coach To help me break 90 for the first time, and It was worth every penny. I’m a much more confident player than I was last year, which simply means I’m no longer making dozens of balls per round.
So I reached out to Barry Westall, director of golf at Newport Country Club, and he told me I could play a round as long as I promised to keep my public, greasy toes away from the lockers, forbade myself from taking selfies I always seem to hit fairways, and didn’t ask the can to fill an empty water bottle sand from the cellar. I agreed, but my fingers were crossed the whole time.
Driving from Providence to the club gives you plenty of time to delve into your mind. You start out by telling yourself that you want to make a statement and at least par with the first or second hole, and quickly drive past the mansions, and play Eminem “Lose Yourself” because you assume this is the last time you’ll ever be allowed near this prestigious place.
You’ve heard of the Five Mafia families in New York, right? Well, Newport Country Club is one of the five founding members of the United States Golf Association, which is how it managed to host the first American Open and the first American Amateur Championship in the same year.
He’s famous enough to be so drop the name by Thurston Howell III in an episode of “Gilligan’s Island” in the 1960s, and you feel each member is somehow connected to the Vanderbilts. The track, which was expanded to 18 holes a few years after first opening, is known for its unpredictable winds, and is more than 7,000 yards long from the furthest tee (played from the more manageable white tees).
As my photographer, Glenn Osmondson reminded me, there is a lot more history to this club than just hosting the first US Open. The last time he visited the course, he said, was to take pictures of an interesting young player named Tiger Woods, who won the 1995 American Amateur Award here.
Rollins. Tiger. McGowan.
The can that drew the short straw to instruct me on the course was Wills Robinson, the student at Trinity College in Connecticut who would make a good senator someday because he has this special skill to make you feel good even in your worst moments, like when six irons hit a pathetic can On 18 feet of thick grass in a five-tenths hole.
Everything from Robinson was “You Got This,” “Don’t Leave This Hole Away,” and “Perfect.” It was like a sports coach who really wanted me to sign up for a few more sessions even though I’m sure he just wanted to play cards and watch Open with his fellow caddies.
Oh, and Robinson is actually more adept at keeping secrets than most of the politicians I cover. He said that every member of the club is beautiful, and they all seem to hit him right. At some point, he told me that water tasted better in the club, and he said that the goldfish biscuits at the club were delicious because they were more salty.
How did you play?
The combination of my nerves and a reckless decision not to hit the balls on the driving field prior to my round made a slow start, even though I managed to equalize on the second hole. The biggest difference between the public courses I play and places like Newport is the Greens: Putts roll like they’re on ice in fancy courses.
In the ninth lead, I shot a 50, which is bad even by my low standards. I found every hideout, and I’d slice my ball to the right nearly every tee shot. I didn’t feel like I was playing that bad, but those sevens can add up a lot.
But Robinson properly hooked me up as a nine-man in the back, and was determined to help me rally.
It cemented the 10th hole, which Robinson told me was important ground during the Revolutionary War. (I didn’t check this out, but he seemed pretty confident.)
Then came the moment of my day.
Hole 11 is four short arcs where Robinson tells me I can drive my ball all the way to the green. But at this point, I think he would have told me I could dunk basketball too. I love optimism.
He was right.
I hit the car right out of the box and before I could even see where it landed, Robinson was handing me a bat and hitting me with a fist. A player watching the hole one in front of you shouted “Go make an eagle” and gave him a stoic thumbs up like the Little Leaguers he coached when they got their first hit.
We weren’t an eagle, but we cut a flying bird for sure.
The rest of the round didn’t really matter, but I was able to rack up 44 for a total of 94. I had four pars and a birdie, and if I could play a little better in the three holes I had a chance to beat Rollins’ 91 shot in my first Open Championship.
The next major tournament to be held in Newport will be the US Open in 2024. The course was supposed to host the tournament in 2020, but COVID-19 ruined everything. Robinson will have graduated from Trinity by then, but he’s as excited as any member.
As for me, I will continue to practice at Triggs in Providence and Fenner Hill in Hope Valley, where rough work is a lot more friendly. Mr. Rollins may have won this round, but I’ll be back. dependable.
Dan McGowan can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at Tweet embed.