The Open Championship returns to Scotland on heels of Murray’s Wimbledon win

Warren Little/GETTY IMAGES - Children of Dunblane Sports Club are pictured the day after Andy Murray‘s Wimbledon victory.

GULLANE, Scotland — Sixty miles northwest of this tiny village on the Firth of Forth, the shops of Dunblane are still marked with individual tributes. Start at the post box at the top, in the shadow of the cathedral, painted in honor — or, rather, honour — of Andy Murray’s Olympic gold medal. A butcher has his sign with Murray’s name and picture, a baker has a banner and on down High Street — a boutique and a cafe, a newsstand and a realtor, virtually every storefront with one “Well done” or another.

Scotland has forever been the home of golf, and that fact will be undeniable this week at Muirfield, where the weather could change at any moment and the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers — who founded this place in 1891 — will smile their wee smiles when it does. Scotland is also home to Murray, whose first Wimbledon championship came less than two weeks ago but whose visits to the beaches of the Bahamas with his girlfriend are now chronicled by the newspapers, enough to bump even the interminable wait for the royal baby.

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So there is something of a connection between these two unrelated events, the oldest championships in tennis and golf. They both now have a tartan tint, a new hero in one sport perhaps creating hope in another.

“It gave the whole town a lift, all of Scotland a lift, really,” said Peter Meldrum, who owns the newsstand on the main street in Murray’s home town. “He’s doing it for the whole country.”

It is, at its core, a complicated country, one that has wrestled with its own identity for centuries. Murray was universally recognized as the first British Wimbledon men’s champion in 77 years — never mind that no Scot had won in 117. But his narrative fits the staging of the 142nd Open as well. Scotsmen both founded the game and won the first 29 Open Championships. They won nine more before World War I. Yet they won just one between the two world wars. Since then, they have won two: Sandy Lyle in 1985 and Paul Lawrie in 1999.

“Golf . . . has always had a baseline level of interest,” Nicol Hay, a Scotsman who writes on his country’s sport and culture, wrote in an e-mail. “It is a game that Scottish people actually play after all, and has a place in the general chatter of work and pubs and bookies. . . .

“What golf has lacked though is a real Scottish interest at the sharp end. The closest thing we’ve had since Sandy Lyle is Colin Montgomerie, but he was never beloved enough to reach national hero status.”

One reason, Hay wrote (joining Montgomerie’s failure to win a major championship and often prickly demeanor): “He doesn’t have a Scottish accent, which matters more than it should.”

Such is the fragility of national pride, of who is a hero and who is not. Murray, who comes equipped with the right cadence, has become one. Lawrie once was, too, because when he won at Carnoustie, an hour from his Aberdeen home, “It was mad,” he said Tuesday. Lawrie watched the Wimbledon final at one of the junior tournaments sponsored by his foundation, which promotes the growth of golf for Scotland’s youth. The kids gathered round, rapt.

“That’s what we want,” Lawrie said. “He’s inspirational, and we’re looking for guys like that.”

He is particularly inspiring to Scots — or, perhaps, Scots can particularly relate to him — because of how he has handled his national identity. Scotland first joined England in a union in 1707, but the country maintained its own distinct culture and even fielded its own athletic teams. When “God Save the Queen” was played at Scottish football matches as recently as the 1980s, the British anthem was occasionally booed. It was replaced by “Flower of Scotland.” In 1999, the Scottish parliament reconvened, and the debate over nationalism and unification simmered. The latest vote for Scottish independence is scheduled for 2014, and Murray’s victory spurred columns and commentary wondering whether an increase in pride could impact the vote.

As a rising young pro, Murray wore the Scottish flag on his wristbands. But he won his Olympic gold last summer at Wimbledon for Team GB, the marketing moniker used for the unified team of England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, and it was the Union Jack that was raised at his medal ceremony. His personality, though — raw and brave when he spoke through tears after losing the 2012 Wimbledon final, dour and self-critical after poor performances — speaks to Scots.

“I think a lot of the reason why Andy Murray is as popular as he is, he had those few years where he wasn’t good enough,” said Martin Laird, a 30-year-old from Glasgow who has won three times on the PGA Tour and will play his third Open on Scottish soil. “‘Is he ever going to be any good? Is he fit enough?’ He kind of battled back from that, you know, and the Scottish people kind of think of themselves as underdogs. Football, rugby, golf, we’ve always kind of been the underdog. That’s what he was, and that’s what they appreciate.”

In Dunblane, the appreciation is apparent at every turn. For so long, what the world knew of this affluent town of fewer than 9,000 residents had to do with a horrific mass shooting at Murray’s primary school, a spree that killed 16 children and their teacher in 1996. The town soldiered on, and Murray’s career helped bring attention for a newer, better reason. His victory over Novak Djokovic in the Wimbledon final completed that climb.

“It kind of helped get a better reputation for Scotland,” said Cameron Christmas, a Dunblane native and a waiter at Café Continental on High Street. “The reputation can be that it’s just a dreary, rainy place. This kind of picked up everyone.”

There are 10 Scotsman in the field here, each trying to do what Lyle did, what Lawrie did — in a way, what Murray did. The public expectations, though, won’t be for such a performance. Dunblane might be decorated from the cathedral to the school, but that doesn’t alter the basic tenets of the Scottish personality — pride in winning Wimbledon, pride in creating and hosting the Open aside.

“We mostly don’t expect to win anything,” Hay wrote. “If we do, that’s great, but we’re not the sort of nation that go around worrying that we’re squandering potential if by and large we don’t have any.”

 
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