FORT WORTH — The British Open is better in Texas because you can watch it with barbecue. This is how my father has consoled himself while missing his first golf major championship in 45 years. It seems his doctor felt the bracing air of northwest England might not be good for him, but the medical community said nothing about smokehouse ribs. The fact that Dan Jenkins, 84, stayed home from the British constitutes not just a concession, but some kind of historical event, because the last time he was absent from a major the club heads were made of persimmon, and not every Tour wife was a blonde.
Forty-five straight British Opens is a lot of trips to the firths and forths, a lot of gorse and whin under the quaint old footbridges. My father had covered the past 179 majors consecutively for either Golf Digest or Sports Illustrated, and overall he has witnessed 222 majors (counting one he saw as a kid in 1941), a feat that helped put him in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
So you can see how he might be a little sentimental about breaking his streak, and skipping a tournament that has always been equal part pleasure and discomfort. “I’ll be tweeting Hoylake from Fort Worth, where we have reliable plumbing, bath towels bigger than a wash cloth, and food I can identify,” he told his more than 41,000 followers on Twitter.
Instead we’re doing our best to simulate the experience of golf on the links of Hoylake inside the family home. On Thursday morning we rose at 3 a.m. central time to watch the telecast from overseas. I staggered into the living room, rubbing the sleep from my eyes, to find him sitting upright in a chair, wearing a heavy windbreaker and black cashmere Ben Hogan golf cap. My brother explained, “It’s his game face. Like the guy who wears the Eagles jersey in front of the TV.”
The air conditioning was roaring — outside it was 80, though it was still dark. I asked the question that I knew, from long study at his knee, to be the most crucial at any British Open: “What’s the weather doing over there?”
My father pointed to the bright light radiating from the big screen and sighed heavily. “It’s sunny,” he said, disappointed. “Might as well be Orlando.”
“I want howling winds and rain,” he said. “Those courses are hopeless without wind.”
Over the next few hours, becalmed Royal Liverpool gave up 18 rounds in the 60s, and 47 players broke par. Which was not even the record. That was set eight years ago at Hoylake when 67 golfers were in the red in the opening round.
“What’s the easiest Open course you ever saw?” I asked.
“This one,” he replied.
As the morning wore on, the running family consensus was that Tiger Woods’s swing is overly short and squat, that Rickie Fowler has played better since he started dressing better and if he would wear a proper hat he might win, and we’ve got to get rid of the muscle shirt fad, because they look bad on guys with no muscles. Also, Merseyside is a delightful town, and you can see Wales from everywhere.
When Woods finished with his 69, we broke for breakfast, and everyone was asleep again by 10 a.m. That night we watched a British miniseries on DVD and hoped that, like Bernard Darwin once wrote, Hoylake would be “blown upon by mighty winds.”
On Friday morning we slept in until 6 a.m., and this time my father sat in his chair with the black cashmere cap, and the thermostat whistling in the 50s. TV reported there was a 20-mph breeze in Liverpool. He had on a camel cardigan, and said, “I may have to light a fire.”
One of the things 45 straight British Opens gave him is a lifelong love of cashmere. His entire wardrobe is made up of sweaters so soft you could swaddle babies in them. It also gave him a taste for sausage rolls and fish and chips. Which he always considered more than compensation for the headcold-breeding air of the gray Irish Sea.
When I was old enough, the British was a family summer vacation. My first was in 1972 at Muirfield, where my father carried the heavy family luggage for three kids, while covering Jack Nicklaus’s attempt at the third leg of the Grand Slam. It was a lot to deal with, but he never betrayed any sense of irritation or harassment at being trailed by three children under the age of 12 while trying to chronicle golf history. Only once did he grow short, in trying to find the Muirfield press room early in the week. Which provoked him to utter a line that entered private family lore: “They moved the castle,” he said, looking around crossly. “It used to be on the other side of the road.”
We ran across the course trying to catch up to Nicklaus as he went 7 under through the first 11 holes of the final round, and squirmed through the legs of adult spectators to watch Lee Trevino curling in the long chips that ruined Nicklaus’s charge. I have a vague memory of Trevino leaning against a fence surrounded by media afterward, and then watching the pages come out of my father’s typewriter one by one, starting with the first one that described Nicklaus with his gloved hand braced on his knee and his head hanging down in defeat.
With that sort of deep family history, you can understand how we all keened with laughter when ESPN tried to make Woods out to be a figure from antiquity because he is trying to win his second British at Hoylake, eight years apart, Tom Rinaldi intoning solemnly, “Time is the longest distance between two places,” quoting Tennessee Williams. The Woods worship reached its peak Friday morning, when ESPN reported that he had crossed a footbridge to the first tee taking the steps “ two at a time.” A short while later ,the actual leader, Rory McIlroy, made the same trip to the first tee.
“He’s taking the steps one at a time,” my father said.
ESPN’s breathlessness was relieved by the stringent honesty of my father’s old friend Peter Alliss, who also shared his sense of sartorial propriety. Sergio Garcia was received with the curt observation, “White trousers. Dangerous.”
As the wind kicked through the pant legs of the players, we were informed that the weather was forecast to grow much worse: Rain was expected Saturday, with more wind. Which the real British golf connoisseurs took as the best possible news.
Tonight we’re making Shepherd’s Pie for dinner.
For more by Sally Jenkins, visit washingtonpost.com/jenkins.