Golf: History catches up with me

David Ridley had always wondered why he was denied his courtesy car at the Open in 1984. Now he knows...
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THREE WEEKS ago, I related - on the front page of the Independent's review section - the story of how I blagged my way into the 1984 Open Championship at St Andrews, posing as a player. I signed dozens of autographs - and very amiably too, I should add, unlike some professional golfers - and spent ages on the practice putting green alongside Greg Norman and Bernhard Langer. Finally, I demanded a courtesy car for myself and my caddie. But to get the courtesy car, I needed an identity. And so I declared myself to be one David Ridley, an obscure qualifier whose name I had spotted in that morning's paper.

Well, the chickens, birdies and eagles have all come home to roost. For after reading the article, the real David Ridley made contact. He is now the pro at Coxmoor Golf Club in Nottinghamshire, and had always vaguely wondered why he was denied his courtesy car that day at the Open. Luckily for me, I got there first, so it was him, not me, who encountered bureaucratic obstacles. "They said: `You've already gone.' And I said: `How can I have gone when I'm here?' In the end, I had to share a car with David Frost." Naturally, I apologised profusely for my 15-year-old misdemeanour. Ridley was gracious in the extreme. He was simply happy, he said, to have solved the mystery.

We got chatting. He played in five Open Championships, the first of them in 1969 at Royal Lytham and the last in 1984 when he missed the cut by some distance, in the process taking four putts on the notorious Road Hole. I felt like saying that he might have done better if he'd spent as much time on the practice green as me, but decided against it. Ridley resolved in 1984 that he would no longer attempt to qualify for the Open. To my relief, this decision had nothing to do with his difficulty securing a courtesy car.

"I found myself in the locker room changing my shoes next to Ballesteros and Tom Watson, and I just thought: `What am I doing here? It's a different league.' Since then I have never entered."

We talked about this year's Open, and the severity of the Carnoustie course, which is still being furiously debated in golfing circles. "Deep down," says Ridley, "the club golfer quite liked seeing the pros struggle a bit. But Woods might have won it taking an iron off every tee, which would have been a shame."

Broadly speaking, the argument divides into two camps. There are those who think the pros whinged excessively, and that Paul Lawrie, the player best able to adapt his game to a course he knew well, was a worthy winner. Then there are those, and I am one of them, who hated to see the Open reduced to a lottery. A cousin of mine summed it up neatly. If he had a putting contest with his wife, who is a non-golfer, then on a flat carpet he would expect to win. On a shag-pile carpet, she would have a better chance. Thus it was at Carnoustie.

On the other hand, the Sky Sports golf presenter Ewen Murray told me last week that he thought Lawrie would win more majors. "No one has won the Open more impressively. He is a very good player and all he has lacked is a belief in himself. Well, he has that now," said Murray.

On the thorny, not to say bushy, issue of the course, Murray - who considers Carnoustie to be the greatest lay-out in the world - reckons that the R&A's cardinal error was to reduce its par to 71.

"Nobody has said that yet. The fairways were a little too narrow, yes, but by reducing the par they did too many things. If it had been a par 72, then Van de Velde would have arrived at the last needing a four to finsh one under. The US Open has been trying to do that for years."

As for next month's Ryder Cup, Murray is horrified by the noises being made by Tiger Woods and David Duval, to the effect that they might withdraw if they are not paid. "If they get paid then the Ryder Cup should be scrapped, that's how strongly I feel about it," said Murray. "The trophy was given by Sam Ryder as a bond of friendship. Threatening to withdraw if they are not paid is like snatching the ball and saying `I'm going home.' It's sickening." It is not, of course, as if they need the money. "They've just played a challenge match against each other," Murray added. "Woods won $1.1m and Duval won $400,000. They were given $200,000 each to give to charity. The answer may have been to give the lot." Amen to that.