Bill Rogers did good work this weekend in repairing Anglo-American relations. The name John McEnroe has been washed from British tongues.
What fences weren't mended by the manner of Rogers' victory in the British Open were put in good order by the way in which Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Arnold Palmer failed to win.
Few nations are so concerned with how a person wins, as opposed to if he wins, as this one. From soccer to darts, sports of all kinds are followed more passionately here than in the United States, if that's imaginable.
Yet the primary emphasis is always on how the game is played, the style and taste of the thing, more than the result.
The British flagellate themselves for being "good losers," but it's equally true that they have a keen eye for a good winner. Or a bad one.
To a British, for instance, McEnroe did not win Wimbledon. He may have the cash, but, in the larger sense, he last. Ironically, the issue here is not that McEnroe mocked authorities or insulted officials, but that he did it poorly -- with a schoolboy's whine.
In England's time of turmoil, Wimbledon is hardly a popular institution, since it symbolizes privilege. Yet, from the working man's pub to the heated all-night taxicab stand, you hear the forlorn assessment that "McEnroe was right, but he couldn't carry the thing off well."
No self-control, savvy, long-sightedness. No sense of understanding the situation to its last twist and playing it for the last laugh. In other words, no class.
Had McEnroe just gone to the Wimbledon victory celebration and confronted the All England club's silly punishments with a crushing, dignified cordiality, the British would have understood and applauded him.
Last week, by contrast, Tom Watson criticized the hallowed Royal and Ancient as severly as McEnroe took on the All England club. Watson maintained that the R and A, whose sole reason for existence is to preserve and protect British golfing tradition, had violated its trust by "Americanizing" Royal St. George's with a new-fangled watering system.
"This is no longer a links course," he said. Watson might as well have said, "Why didn't you just dynamite the place?"
However, because Watson's critique was sober, reasoned and never shrill, the British took it seriously, the R and A never screamed and Watson was met on the 72nd hole Sunday with a standing ovation.
If McEnroe, at least in youth, seems fated to be an ugly American, then Palmer, in age, is the handsomest Yank. On Thursday, Palmer probably was done out of two shots by a bizarre local rule at Royal St. George's that perhaps cost him the one-day glory of being tied for the first-round lead. A century of finishing school could not give a man the natural tact that Palmer showed in casually shrugging off an incident that obviously was peeving him extremely.
That's a real American champion, nodded the British.
At this hour, there is no American sportsman who rivals Nicklaus throughout the length and breadth of England. He was revered before, but now he is loved. It took an 83 to pull the trick. The traditional view here, you see, is that an athlete's actions in victory mean little. His reaction to catastrophe is 10 times thie litmus test.
Nicklaus' awful first round was written large here as "the end of an era." That melodramatic reading was, largely, the result of the marvelously perverse English self-absorption that allows this island to think that its open is the one true championship in all of golf. Nobody has the heart to tell them that two-thirds of the world's best players weren't here and that the field at the Kemper Open could give this motley crew of international strugglers, with the names of driving ranges and laundromats on their bags, one a side and win laughing.
So, when Nicklaus came back with a 66, he got the "Hallelujah Chorus" treatment. One overwrought London journalist wrote that, "When Ernest Hemingway lost the ability to write, he got up in the morning and shot himself. When Nicklaus shot 83, he got up the nest morning and shot 66."
Nothing titillates the British like an underdog: they can even convince themselves that Nicklaus is one.
In that sense, this was a purely British-style open. The nobodies of golf broke into the wine cellar and made off with the good stuff. Londoner Nick Job, unattached, was at or near the top of the leader board for 40 holes and endeared himself by saying after shooting 70-69 for two days that the odds on his winning should go from 300 to 1 to 400 to 1. He ended "level 14th," as the English call ties.
The equal of the long-suffering Job was Gordon Brand, former third cornet player for the Hammonds Sausage Factory band: he shot a course record 65, replete with hole in one, which was "sandwiched" by rounds of 7 and 74.
In this gathering, the perfect runnerup was the son of a Bavarian bricklayer who began cadding at 9 and turned pro at 15 -- Bernhard Langer.
This tough little 150-pound cuss, who recently finished second in a long-driving contest in Morocco with a blast of 291 yards that left "Big Cat, Williams and Jim Dent behind, was the idea pursuer of a polished blond American PGA fixture like Rogers. Even Langer's ancient, cracked white golf shoes looked like they were held together by polish, glue and pride.
Finally, in this last-shall-be-first open that saw eight of the top 18 spots go to the normally feeble British Isles contingent, Rogers came to the front with just the sort of self-deprecating modesty that is adored here.
Asked why he felt so comfortable playing in this tiny seaside resort that is equidistant from the white cliffs of Dover and Canterbury Cathedral, Rogers said, "You folks watch 'Dallas' on TV over here, I'm told. But I wanna tell you I don't know any folks like that back home.
"I'm from a little town called Texarkana, and it's just about the same size as Sandwich."
That is a gentle touch, a way with people, that can't be taught. You can hide it behind an east Texas drawl, but the British know what it is when they hear it.
It's class. And they eat it up.