A lean time for Feherty

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The Independent Online
"A SUBTLE blend of temptation and fear" is how the official blurb refers to St Andrews. "A course on which you can never relax" it goes on - and it doesn't take much of a trek around the Old Course to assume that they must be talking about the spectators.

Fear is about spot on. This narrow stretch of links, with its shared fairways, double greens and blind hillocks, is an accident waiting to happen. And when this public course is open to any old hacker, as it is for most of the year, golf balls are prone to flying around like anti- aircraft tracers.

Not even a professional swing is a guarantee against a 100 compression Ultra creating a rather different lump than the one you get in the throat watching Arnold Palmer's last walk in an Open Championship.

Ian Baker-Finch produced an unlikely double off the first tee in his first two (and, not surprisingly, last two) rounds. On Thursday, the Australian drilled it sharp left, across the road, and into one of the buildings to the right of the 18th fairway. A subtle alteration to the swing cured him on Friday. This time it flew sharp right, and after the ball had been recovered from the seafood counter in one of the marquees, the Australian was allowed to drop it two club-lengths clear of the prawn salad.

Greg Norman was almost cleaned up by a stray ball while addressing his tee shot at the 17th on Thursday, and yesterday afternoon a member of the Fife Constabulary was very nearly cut down in the line of duty.

Peter Baker was not in the best of moods after bogeying the first, and was just drawing back an angry wood on the second tee when this uniformed clown wandered across his line of fire and started waving at a bloke in a suit standing next to the grandstand at the back of the first.

Closer inspection revealed this to be HRH the Duke of York, following his favourite sport in the approved royal manner, with hands clamped firmly behind his back. If the two heavies alongside him knew anything at all about the Old Course, there would have been a whispered: "I should stick 'em behind your head if I were you, sir."

The balls were even more wayward than usual yesterday on account of the wind, which made you fear not only for the spectators, but also for David Feherty. The Ulsterman has lost three stone in weight since last year's Open, and at any moment a sudden gust could have sent him soaring not just to the top of the leaderboard but clean over it and out across the bay.

Feherty's skeletal figure presumably means that back home in Ireland he is known as one of the little people. Back home, among his mates and down at the local, is where he would prefer to be, but instead he is eking out a miserable existence on the US Tour.

His new base in Dallas is the result of his South African wife's wanting to move somewhere warmer, and his newly acquired leprechaun stature the result of his wife's subsequently leaving him. He is such an engagingly garrulous bloke that Mrs Feherty may have accused him of having a torrid affair with the Blarney Stone.

Feherty hates the American Tour, not simply because he barely makes enough money to afford a hot dog (a form of nourishment he is clearly in need of) but because it is no place for a chap who likes a pint and a good time. Over there, it is one long riot of practice rounds and (given that nearly all American pros appear to be Born Again) prayer meetings.

Whenever he is back in the UK, though, his wisecracking wit rarely deserts him. In last year's Open at Turnberry, he nipped down off the ninth tee for a spot of relief in the ocean, returned with a few damp spots on his trousers, and warned a journalist on his way down for something similar: "Have a care. It's playing against the wind."

Yesterday, he was also battling the wind, alongside a partner rather less likely to be blown over, the built-for-comfort Mark Calcavecchia. Feherty, who had a 71 to finish on 214 (two under), was attempting to become the first Irishman to win the Open since Fred Daly in 1947, and certainly the thinnest one ever. A gust blew a chocolate-bar wrapper from his hand on the sixth, which turned out to be something called a "Power Bar". Instant Energy - 230 calories, it said. Blimey O'Riley! He doesn't look as though he takes in 230 calories in a week.