A Curious Week at Carnoustie

By Leonard Shapiro
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, July 26, 2007; 4:11 PM

What a week at the British Open, a golf tournament that seemed to produce a fascinating headline every day of the week and came down to high drama on the 72nd hole, followed by an encore four-hole playoff that wasn't clinched until Padraig Harrington made a three-foot putt for bogey on the final green to put Sergio Garcia out of his misery.

On Monday -- day one at Carnoustie -- not only did we have the retirement of Seve Ballesteros, who showed up at the same Carnoustie course where he played in his first British Open, we also had Jean Van de Velde on the telephone for a poignant interview that revealed he was undergoing tests for possible bone cancer.

Van de Velde provided a Comedie Francaise the last time he played a major at Carnoustie in 1999 -- that triple-bogey, infamous farce of a finish when he took off his shoes and socks and waded into the Barry Burn in hopes of splashing out. Instead, the tide rose, so to speak, and he was unable to swing in the water.

But no one on that conference call was laughing when Van de Velde went through the litany of health problems he'd been suffering since April, then revealed what he's actually being tested for. We can only hope they'll find a simple answer for a not too complex medical issue so that Van de Velde, a delightful guy with the proper perspective on his life and his golf, can get back out and start playing again.

Ballesteros also spoke with some emotion about his decision to give up competitive golf at age 50.

Clearly, his body has betrayed him after all these years, not to mention for most of the last decade. And while Ballesteros could probably hack it around for a few seasons on the senior circuit, his choice not to put himself through that grind for a few dollars more just sounded exactly right.

Swashbuckling Spaniards and the Champions Tour just don't seem made for each other, and Seve will take his back nine mulligan on life in a different direction -- designing courses, helping organize his own Seve Challenge on the European Tour and spending more time at home with the family and a couple of talented younger sons who may someday find their names on big-time leader boards themselves.

On Tuesday, there was another intriguing headline. A rules official from The Royal and Ancient Golf Club made an absolute fool of himself when he delivered a speech at the annual Association of Golf Writers Dinner that evening.

Graham Brown would have been fine if he'd just sat down after doing a hilarious, dead-on imitation of Ballesteros, but then he started to become quite offensive with remarks about the Japanese and a thoroughly tasteless joke mocking the accent of a black caddie at Augusta National.

The next day, R&A officials insisted no disciplinary action would be taken against Brown, if only because he wasn't representing the R&A when he spoke at the dinner, and after all, he was a damned fine rules official, as one R&A executive said. Still, a day later, it was learned that Brown had quietly skulked out of town, advised to go home by the R&A and not serve in any capacity as a rules official at Carnoustie.

Good call, but sadly, this was not the first time such comments have been made in such public places at the British Open. A few years ago, another speaker at the same AGW dinner thought it quite appropriate to tell a different racist joke about an Augusta caddie, using the same exaggerated dialect as Brown employed.

I happened to be sitting next to an African-American reporter friend attending the dinner at the time whose neck visibly stiffened when he heard it, but decided to turn the other cheek.

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