Licked by the Postage Stamp

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The Independent Online
When Willie Park, the first winner of the Open Championship, took a look at Royal Troon's eighth hole he was aghast. It has "a pitching surface," he said, "skimmed down to the size of a postage stamp". The name stuck, although it is unlikely whether Mark Calcavecchia delivered his abuse yesterday in such charming and eloquent terms.

The last time the American played this course he would have gladly taken it back to Florida with him. He may still want the bulk of it as a reminder of the three closing 68s that landed him the Open in 1989, but there are 126 yards of it that he would gladly leave behind.

Yes, just 126 yards. Tiger Woods could flick the ball that distance with the back of his putter on the practice ground, but if ever a hole proved that it is not size that matters it is the Postage Stamp. Shrink the green, surround it with sand traps and put a bank of nature's rubbish on the left and suddenly even the Tiger, who bogeyed the hole yesterday, is rubbing his eyes.

In the Twenties Walter Hagen took a double-bogey five there in the final round and lost an Open Championship by a stroke. Three decades later a German by the name of Herman Tissies got in a tizzy so profound he entered the record books. More of him later.

Yesterday Calcavecchia arrived at the Postage Stamp in about as good a mood as he could get. The fifth, sixth and seventh had yielded birdies, the sun was taking the edge off the chilling wind and the young boys on the scoreboard behind the eighth tee were busy shooting up ladders adding him to the leaderboard.

Golf has a habit of introducing glowering clouds to an otherwise perfect morning, however, and although Calcavecchia was only a fraction out with his tee-shot, maybe a degree to the left, it was enough to send his ball arcing into a bunker so maliciously shaped the Marquis de Sade would be storming straight into the greens committee if one of his victims strayed there.

Calcavecchia would be waiting behind him ready to bang the table, because his ball landed so close to the bunker's rim that the next shot was almost impossible. Or at least it was while standing up. Down to his knees the erstwhile champion sank, seemingly in prayer, before miraculously chipping the ball out over the Penny Black of a putting surface. On and on it ran before sinking into another bunker.

Fine. You take your punishment and go. Calcavecchia chipped to four feet and was contemplating a scruffy but acceptable bogey four until he pulled his putt horribly. Exit one disgruntled golfer, his upward momentum checked so thoroughly he finished with a three-over-par 74.

If he was cursing, the sound was drowned: the eighth at Troon is not only the shortest hole in Open golf but possibly the noisiest. Pilots taking off from Prestwick Airport seem to use the flag as a bearing, and as if that is not enough of a distraction the hole also has the Glasgow- Ayr railway line running alongside it. That had some of us wondering what the pre-electric age was like - until Colin Montgomerie kindly arrived to provide an illustration.

Big Monty made a right hash of his tee-shot, took his second bogey in two holes and hissed off into the distance having banked up enough steam to peel the Postage Stamp and an album of first-day issues off their envelopes. The Flying Scotsman could not have gone by billowing more smoke.

Which made you also speculate what sort of mood Herman the German was in after being licked by the Postage Stamp in 1950. Tissies found a bunker on the left with his tee-shot and was still making his acquaintances with the sand four shots later when his fifth finally got him out of the snare and into another sand trap on the other side of the green.

Again he needed more than one shot to escape, found a hillock as anger added over-emphasis to his efforts and two strokes later was back in the bunker where he began. His final tally at the hole was 15, a score that even Ian Baker-Finch managed to avoid yesterday.

Give or take the odd five the Postage Stamp let the field off lightly yesterday, although 49 players managed to drop shots there. No one could manage a hole in one, which added lustre to Gene Sarazen's achievement 24 years ago.

The great American failed to qualify when the Open was held at Troon in 1923 and there were many who believed he should have stood aside for a younger man when he accepted an invitation to return to the course at the age of 71 in 1973.

He rammed those thoughts where they came from by holing the eighth in one in the first round. "For many years the Postage Stamp had haunted me," Sarazen said afterwards. "I feared it... I felt there could be no better way to close the books on my tournament play.''

The Postage Stamp closed no careers yesterday. It tempted one or two though.