Sam Torrance, with his boxer's nose and brawling game, is at the
epicenter of golf in the kingdom. The whole of British golf runs
through him, as it ran through Old Tom Morris, Harry Vardon and
Bernard Darwin or, in more recent years, Tony Jacklin, Bernard
Gallacher and Mark James, the threesome that preceded Torrance as
European Ryder Cup captain.
Torrance, 47, earned his place at the core by qualifying for 29
consecutive British Opens; by accepting party invitations by the
fistful; by showing up the morning after, ready to play and often
playing well; and by winning 21 European tour events, six of them
in the British Isles. It is true that he never won in the U.S.
and never won a major, but nobody in the home countries cares
about that. To the British way of thinking, there is one major,
the Open Championship. That and the Ryder Cup are important.
There was Torrance on July 16, attempting to gain entry into his
30th Open. On that day he was playing in the second round of the
36-hole qualifier on a bumpy, craggy course called St. Annes Old
Links, down the road from Royal Lytham. In the first round
Torrance shot a 68, four under par, and as he headed for the
second 18, a polite gallery of 50 came along with him. It was a
lovely sun-drenched day, and Torrance was in a chipper mood. He
walked by a gorse bush and listened to its seeds popping like
popcorn kernels in a microwave oven.
By the time Torrance played the last few holes, his gallery had
swelled to 300, including a man pushing his son in a wheelchair
down the middle of the fairway. Torrance shot a 71, decent but
not close to being good enough to qualify. Now steaming and
silent, he signed scorecards and old Ryder Cup programs by the
St. Annes clubhouse--rambling, shabby, perfect--and then placed his
big black tour bag in the back of his big black BMW and said,
"I'll go home and watch on the telly. No point in me staying
here." About the end of his British Open streak, he offered
nothing more than a shrug.
Playing alongside Torrance at St. Annes was a 34-year-old
Scottish teaching pro named Stuart Callan. Callan was making his
annual attempt to qualify. In 10 previous tries he had never
succeeded. He is married, the father of two young boys, and on a
budget. He was spending his nights at the Sisters of Mercy
retreat home in St. Annes--10[pounds] ($14.27) a night--and
driving by day with a borrowed ERC driver, his own Ping out of
commission with a crack.
Callan was playing with Torrance for the first time, but he had
been following him all his golfing life. Callan grew up playing a
course outside Edinburgh called Bathgate, where Bernard Gallacher
also played, and for a while Callan had the course record, a 64,
until Torrance showed up one day in 1992 and toured the place in
58 shots. Now Callan was standing beside the Scottish star at St.
Annes as they prepared to play their second shots on the par-5
home hole, easily reachable in two.
Callan had opened with a 70, but he was five under for his second
round and figured he needed one more birdie to have a shot at
qualifying. He took a long drag on his cigarette and stared down
the shot, much the way Torrance used to. Callan was swinging
well. For two rounds he had felt Torrance's long, beautiful
rhythm infecting his own game. However, this crucial swing was
short and quick, and the result was a bad pull-hook. Somehow, he
pitched out of the bunker and onto the green. Somehow, he holed
the subsequent 25-footer. "The divine intervention of the Sisters
of Mercy," he said.
His 66 earned him a playoff berth, five men competing for three
Open spots. On the second extra hole, from deep grass off the
green, Callan holed a 45-foot chip for birdie, using his putter.
He was in. He would play in his first Open. It was divine, all
right. By that point Torrance was long down the road, his model
rhythm along with him. For the rest of the week Callan would have
to play on memory. He would have to close his eyes and recall the
famous Torrance tempo and the 70 and the 66 he had shot playing
Peter Alliss, the ABC and BBC commentator, was gathering bits of
information about the qualifiers. He was not running to the
press tent looking up their statistical records or conducting
interviews or sending out minions to gather intelligence.
Alliss--born to sit in a well-upholstered armchair, one might
say--has never been one to run anywhere. He stumbles upon his
facts in conversation, tucks them away in the crammed notebook
of his brain and uses them in the conversation that is his
He loves the stories of qualifiers. They remind him that the
great mid-July championship is a true open, that any golfer can
play his way into it. The stories are also useful for filling
airtime on Thursday and Friday, days when Alliss has many hours
to occupy, days when the qualifiers are certain to be around and
the leader board is a meaningless stew.
Now, on a cold, windy Tuesday, past tea time but before dinner,
Alliss, 70, was sitting in a nook in the lobby of his hotel, the
Dalmeny, on the promenade at St. Annes, in sight of the sea. The
Dalmeny is not a fancy place, nothing like the lush hotels he has
become accustomed to on his trips to the U.S., but the staff was
looking after him and he was happy. The hotel's employees knew
who he was and how he liked his Grouse (neat, with a second glass
for ice). "So young Stuart Callan is a teaching professional at
Dalmahoy," said Alliss, repeating, more or less, what he had just
"Well, he's 34," said a member of his party.
"Thirty-four is young," Alliss said.
Over the course of the next hour or two, over the course of two
or three whiskies--who's counting?--Gary Lineker, a retired English
soccer star, dropped in, as did a British tournament organizer, a
European tour press official, Golf Channel anchor Renton Laidlaw,
a couple of BBC producers, Mike Tirico, the ABC commentator, and
Curtis Strange, the U.S. Ryder Cup captain. Alliss was holding
court, and he's a scratch raconteur.
"Dalmahoy was for many years a private club, 36 holes, pleasant,
rolling parkland golf," Alliss said. "It's been converted to a
Marriott resort, near enough to Edinburgh. We used to play one of
our big tour events there when it was still private. It was in
the Dalmahoy clubhouse, in 1965, that I met my wife, Jackie.
Jackie Grey she was then. She spoke French, German and English,
and was working the tournament as a translator. Three other girls
were with her, and when something happened to the men [they were
with], I took the four girls to dinner. Very lovely. The dinner
came to four pounds. Senior Service, it was."
(At some point, when a Briton is speaking in the company of an
American, a reference will be made that fails to register. Senior
Service? It was a British cigarette brand. For years, cigarette
companies and distilleries were the primary sponsors of British
"Ah, young master Callan," Alliss was saying. "He'll get a medal
for his play in the Open, a proper medal, one he can put in a
special case at home with his other fine things, and nobody can
take that, or the experience, away from him." The television
commentator seemed proud of Callan. It is true that Alliss had
only recently heard of him, but now young Stuart Callan was a
qualifying survivor and in the Open proper.
Last Thursday morning Sir Michael Bonallack, winner of five
British Amateurs, was sitting at a table in the members' bar, not
yet open, on the second floor of Royal Lytham's redbrick
clubhouse. He was wearing a coat and tie, as the room requires.
Bonallack is the immediate past captain of the Royal and Ancient
Golf Club of St. Andrews, and before that he was its secretary
for 16 years. He was watching the BBC broadcast of the
tournament, listening to Alliss comment on players famous and
obscure. Bonallack, 66, and Alliss have been friends for most of
their lives. Their histories have been entwined from before they
"My grandfather, James Esplen, was the president of Wanstead, a
golf club outside London, in the 1920s when the club hired
Peter's father, Percy, as head professional," Bonallack said. "I
played, as an amateur, with Peter in a professional tournament,
the old Martini & Rossi event, in 1961, shortly before I won my
first Amateur. I believe Peter finished fourth and I finished
fifth. When I won my last Amateur, in 1970, it was the first
tournament Peter worked for the BBC, BBC Northern Ireland it
would have been."
Bonallack considered the density of his sentences, how connected
the many facts in them were. "The golf community is small in this
country," he said. "Small country, small golf community."
In the background Alliss, on TV, said something about a player's
ball "bumbling along" one of Lytham's firm fairways. Bonallack
smiled when he heard the words, words he had heard from the mouth
of Alliss many times in the past, words he hears every year at
On Friday afternoon John Paramor, the chief rules official of
the European tour, was sitting in a cart beside the 13th hole.
Business was slow, and he talked about his quarter century as a
rules man and the many friendships that had come out of it. He
counts Sir Michael among his friends, and they have played golf
together numerous times, in various countries and conditions.
Paramor is a good amateur golfer, though not in Bonallack's
class. Still, they play level.
"When you first see him, you think he might be a bit of a toff,"
Paramor said. (Toff: person of high social standing.) "But he's
really a great sport. When I see him, I drop to one knee and say,
'My liege.' He says, 'Get up, Paramor.'"
Earlier in the day Paramor had met Stuart Callan in his
professional capacity. As Callan played in, his misfortunes were
mounting and his pace had turned into something slower than a
pub crawl. Paramor clocked Callan as needing more than a minute
for a shot on 17 and told him he had to pick up his pace. Callan
did and closed with a birdie.
Callan's two-day total was an 18-over par 160. Nonetheless, he
earned 1,000[pounds] ($1,427), among his biggest paydays. As a
golfing experience, he said, it was unmatched. Callan took his
medal and his experience and headed home.
Dave Musgrove was working as a caddie in 1975 when Paramor joined
the European tour, as a caddie himself. Musgrove showed him the
ropes--whom to avoid, how to handle a flagstick--and Paramor has
been grateful ever since. "He was county champion of Surrey, and
he had a thought about playing professionally, but when he saw
what these players could do, he thought the better of it,"
Musgrove said. He was eating a steak-and-onion sandwich, without
the onions, waiting for his man, Sandy Lyle, to show up. This
year marked the 40th consecutive Open in which Musgrove caddied,
a streak that started at Troon in 1962, when he was a silent
19-year-old. Sam Torrance will never catch Musgrove, not now.
Naturally, we are back to Sam. In the village of British golf you
are never too separated from him. Six degrees at most. Here is
Torrance playing in the qualifier, Callan beside him. Here is
Alliss learning about Callan, and Bonallack listening to Alliss.
Here is Paramor recalling his rounds with Bonallack, and Musgrove
remembering Paramor the caddie. Here is Musgrove on Torrance, a
man he has seen play all his professional life. "I'll tell you
about Sam," Musgrove said. "In '87 Sandy and Sam were playing
for Scotland in the World Cup in Hawaii. I was caddying for
Sandy. Sam three-putted the 18th, and we lost to Wales. Scotland
losing to Wales--bring that up with him. You'll find he hasn't
cooled down yet. That's Sam."