My Week at Troon: Challenge to imagination and patience

Click to follow
The Independent Online

As an American golfer, it's not a surprise that if I had to nominate one major to win, I'd like to win the US Open some day. But after just three days in Britain, which is proving to be an incredible experience, I'd already say that winning the British Open would come a close No 2.

I think I'd rather win this tournament than the Masters at Augusta, for example, because this is where the game originated. The history, the roots of the game, the prestige of the tournament - this is where it's at. And I don't see any reason why I shouldn't be in contention as much as anyone else. Ben Curtis showed last year that just because you're not well known to everybody doesn't mean you can't go out and create a surprise.

I have to say that personally I wasn't so surprised that Ben won. I've known him for years - we played at college, and in fact I practised with him yesterday - and I've always known he was a talented, capable player. But the fact that he did win can be nothing but encouraging. If he can do it, why can't I? My view is that there's an opportunity in front of me for the taking.

The fact that I've never played on this side of the Atlantic before makes it all the more exciting. Since turning professional in 1998, age 22, I've played on the Nationwide Tour back home, joining the PGA Tour for the first time this year. It's been a good season, including winning the BellSouth Classic, but this is my first taste of golf in Europe.

Until this week I'd never even visited Europe at all. The only place I'd been outside of America was Canada and a few Caribbean islands. This visit has already been an awesome experience, from the warmth of the reception by the local people to the golf course itself, which is a totally new experience for me.

There's something about Britain, and Scotland, that is really endearing. Being here gives you a new realisation about quite how young the United States is as a nation. There's not just one thing I can pinpoint as an illustration, there's everything, from the roads and the buildings, to the Royal Troon clubhouse, the villages in the surrounding area, the stone walls, the old stone houses. It's quite beautiful.

I'm staying in a local hotel, which is great. As for the people - I'd been told before coming over that the people here were nice, but that can be such a cliché. Not until you arrive, and the truth of the advance publicity hits you straight in the forehead do you realise what a friendly place it genuinely is.

I've seen the British Open on television before, of course: Justin Leonard winning on this course in 1997, and another American, Mark Calcavecchia, winning the previous time at Troon in 1989. So being here, in the wind and rain, is actually just what I expected it to be. Let's face it. If it's July and the wind isn't blowing and it isn't raining, then it isn't the British Open, is it?

Having said that, in my practice rounds so far, I've had pretty benign conditions, certainly nothing that's created big problems. The ball's bouncing and rolling on the fairways. The greens aren't too fast. It's a course where you can play your shots positively. As for the Postage Stamp, it's a good little hole: to paraphrase the old joke, it plays like the shortest par-four ever.

As for the way I'll play in the coming days, I feel like it'll be a challenge, but one that will encourage the best of my game. I think the course will require imagination, and I hope I possess that. It will require the ultimate in patience, but I like to think of myself as a patient person, so I'm looking forward to being tested.

As for confidence, which is the bedrock of success in any sport, but especially golf, I feel confident in myself and my season coming into the tournament. Playing on the PGA Tour this year, and playing some good golf too, has obviously helped. The momentum builds, and I hope that whatever happens here, I'll leave happy that I gave it my best shot.

There's not long to go before I find out whether I'll do that. Roll on 3.26pm. Tee-off time. After that, anything may be possible.