Toasted Open rookie John Rollins had much to celebrate and rue as he got a rude introduction to links golf and missed the birth of his first child

July 27, 2003

It's Tuesday night of British Open week in Sandwich, England, and
John Rollins looks very much like a tourist. Clad in a white
T-shirt bearing the Open Championship logo, Rollins is sipping a
pint of beer and mingling with the patrons at the Red Cow Inn, a
tavern on Moat Sole. He's going rather unnoticed for someone who
finished 25th on the PGA our money list last year, but that's to
be expected considering this is his first British Open. In
fact, the practice round he had played earlier in the day was
his first on a European links course. "It was very different
from anything I've experienced," says Rollins, 28. "I was
standing on the 1st tee, and guys were telling me where to hit
my drive. I'm saying, 'I don't see the fairway, but I'll hit it
where you tell me to.'"

Rollins earned a berth in the British thanks to his first Tour
win, at last September's Bell Canadian Open, though he didn't
realize until he received an application in early April that an
exemption into golf's oldest championship came with the victory.
But it wouldn't be easy for Rollins to stay focused on the
tournament. His wife, Jenny, was due to deliver their first child
on July 27, but while Rollins was playing in the Scottish Open
the week before the British, Jenny told him that the baby would
probably be born while he competed at Royal St. George's. "It's
one of those things you have to deal with," John says.

A native of Richmond who lives in Tampa, Rollins is a good ol'
boy who's more comfortable hanging out with the Tour caddies than
with his fellow players. Rollins's own caddie, Barry Blalock, is
rolling with him tonight, as is Rich Caniglia, who loops for
Jonathan Kaye and is staying with Rollins and Blalock in their
rented house. Eventually, the three leave the Red Cow and cruise
over to an Italian restaurant called Bella Amalfi, where Rollins
had eaten the previous night.

On the way to the restaurant Rollins is asked if he thinks he can
contend for the Open championship. "It's all new to me, so it's
hard to expect too much," he says. "Then again, sometimes when
you don't expect a lot, that's when you play your best. So you
never know."

You can tell Rollins is considered a big-time player by the
caliber of his partners in Wednesday's practice round--Paul
Azinger, Rich Beem and Vijay Singh, who have won four majors
among them. Rollins is unfazed by such heady company, though he's
a little flummoxed after Singh sets up a better-ball match
pitting himself and Azinger against Beem and Rollins. "I think
I've wandered into a high-stakes game," Rollins says as he walks
off the 1st green.

He's even more befuddled by Royal St. George's, where the
fairways are severely contoured and as hard as concrete. On a
sand wedge shot into the second green, Rollins's clubhead bounces
hard and his ball bolts left. When Blalock suggests he aim more
to the right on those shots, Rollins says, "That's hard to do."

"Well, this place ain't getting any softer," Blalock replies.

Rollins and Beem fall behind fast in the match, but fortunately
for them, things get cut short on the 15th hole, when play is
suspended because of an approaching storm. As the players pile
into the minivans to go back to the clubhouse, Singh gives his
opponents an earful about how lucky they are that they couldn't
finish. "Were you all playing for a lot of money?" the driver
asks.

"Nah," Singh replies pleasantly. "Just a friendly game."

Rollins is back at Bella Amalfi on Wednesday--"When you find
something good over here, you have to stick with it," he
says--but he has bigger concerns than dinner. Jenny had called
him late in the afternoon to say her doctor was going to induce
labor, and John has been feverishly working his cellphone for the
latest news.

About 30 minutes after Rollins is seated, his phone rings and he
walks out of the restaurant to take the call. He returns 10
minutes later. "Was the baby born?" Blalock asks.

"It's a girl," Rollins announces. "Seven pounds, nine ounces."
His daughter's name is Isabella Armain, and for the rest of the
night he walks around with a wistful look, delighted with the
news, yet bummed that he isn't at his wife's side.

After dinner Rollins buys celebratory cigars and then heads to
the lounge at the New Inn on Delf Street, where he accepts waves
of congratulations from the thirsty caddies. "He's an awesome
dude," one of them says. "He's one of us." It's not long before a
tray of Southern Comfort shots appears, but Rollins doesn't reach
for a glass, preferring instead to nurse his longneck bottle of
beer.

"What are you doing?" a caddie asks.

Rollins feigns anger, then replies, "I'm playing in the British
Open tomorrow."

Rollins needs a clear head on Thursday morning, when he finds
himself teeing off into a 30 mph wind. He bogeys his first hole,
then chunks his wedge approach on the second from about the same
spot in the fairway he had pulled it during the practice round.
That leads to another bogey. "You know what?" he says to Blalock.
"Bad things are going to happen, and I can't get upset about it."

From there, Rollins settles into his round nicely, making three
birdies over the next eight holes. When he gets up and down for
par at the 13th--his fifth par save of the day--he is one under
and two strokes out of the lead. Still, the weather has him in a
foul mood. "If I had to play in this every day, I'd quit," he
says on the 14th tee. "Now I know why English people drink after
they play."

Rollins is at even par when he reaches the 18th, but he bogeys
the hole after missing a three-foot putt. It's the only bunny he
missed all day, and it's still rankling him after he emerges from
the scoring trailer. "How are you doing?" he's asked.

"As soon as I change my shoes, I'll be O.K.," he says testily
before heading for the locker room.

His spirits are better by Friday morning. "I'm tied for ninth,"
he says as he greets a guest at his house. Rollins was in 13th
place after the first round, but he has been climbing the board
all morning, and he has yet to strike a shot. He keeps rising
right up to his 3:22 p.m. tee time, and when his round begins,
Rollins is tied for sixth. He pars his first six holes, and when
he birdies the par-five 7th, he's at even par and tied for
second, one shot behind Davis Love III. Rollins is still at even
par when he reaches the 9th green, now alone in second place, but
he's not unnoticed anymore: A camera crew has made its way over
to Rollins's threesome, and the lens is trained on him.

Soon, Rollins's magical round starts to unravel. On the 550-yard,
par-5 14th, he makes the first of three straight bogeys. He then
double-bogeys the 17th after chipping down a slope and
three-putting from 70 feet. Just like that, Rollins is six over
par, which is where he finishes his round, having made the cut
but in 35th place.

"This place just beats you down," he says later that night while
scarfing down a hamburger and french fries at his rented house.
"I got to the point where I felt like I couldn't do anything
right. I had no defense."

Rollins decides to go out for a quick beer, but he doesn't see
his caddie until he returns home. "I try to give him some space,"
says Blalock, who has been carrying for Rollins for two years.
"I'm sure he gets tired of seeing my face." Recounting the way
his boss's round disintegrated, Blalock curses himself for
keeping quiet instead of offering advice that might have stanched
the bleeding. "We could probably communicate better than we do,"
Blalock says. "That's something we need to work on."

The food is pretty good on Saturday night at the Fishermans
Wharf, a quaint seafood joint overlooking Sandwich Bay, but the
portions are painfully small. "When I get home, I'm going to eat
for two days straight," Rollins says. He still has 18 more holes
to play, but Rollins's mind is already back across the Atlantic.
He shot a desultory 78 in the third round, dropping him to 13
over par. "I just don't think this style of golf sets up well for
my game," he says. "I know this is a major, but I don't think I
would stress out too much if I wasn't playing one year."

Blalock is dining with Rollins again, as is Jeff Weber, who
caddies for Len Mattiace. Rollins would like to fly out on Sunday
night instead of the following morning, but since he traveled
here commercially, he's pessimistic about his chances. His lament
leads to a discussion about private aircraft and the pros who
travel in them. "I was on Nick Price's plane once," Rollins says.
"It's a G-3, and it's so nice it's disgusting."

Rollins, 28th on the Tour money list this year with $1,223,713 in
earnings, is asked to estimate when he thinks he'll be wealthy
enough to get his own plane. He thinks hard, then replies, "I'll
say my birthday, June 25, 2006. No later than that."

Sitting by his locker in the corner of the small Royal St.
George's clubhouse locker room late on Sunday morning, Rollins is
packing up his belongings a mere three hours, 10 minutes after he
had teed off. "It's tough when you're so far back and just going
through the motions," he says after shooting 75 to finish at 17
over for the week, in 70th place. "But I made the cut in my first
British Open. I think that's a pretty good accomplishment."

For all the frustrations, Rollins talks like a man who is looking
forward to playing in his second British Open. "Maybe next time
I'll be more aware of the shots I need to practice before I get
here," he says. With that, Rollins grabs his bags and heads to
the parking lot, where a car is waiting to drive him and Blalock
to London. By this time on Monday, he'll be on his way home. "I'd
have to say this week was a great experience," Rollins says. "But
I'm glad it's over."

TWO COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY AL TIELEMANS SWINGING Rollins enjoyed the night life in Sandwich, but inside the ropes he was all business. TWO COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY AL TIELEMANS WATCH OUT He was sitting pretty after the first round, but Rollins learned some painful lessons during his grueling week. COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY AL TIELEMANS OPEN MIND Rollins says he now knows what shots he needs to work on to play a links course.

"If I had to play in this every day, I'd quit," Rollins said.
"Now I know why English people drink after they play."

"I'd have to say this was a great experience," said Rollins, who
came in 70th. "But I'm glad it's over."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)