Open diary : Essential Bear

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The Independent Online
If threr is one thing that Jack Nicklaus likes almost as much as a round of 66 it is a rattling good press conference, especially if he is the one doing the rattling.

But at 5pm last Wednesday, eve of the 125th Open Championship, he cast a peevish eye over the empty seats in the media centre's interview room. There were too many of them for his liking. When Nicklaus is ready to talk, a full house is usually guaranteed.

However, the appointed time was highly inconvenient for golf writers with fast approaching deadlines. Even the devoted American press seemed less than eager to spend half an hour listening to another Nicklaus bad- back story. Those present did their best but it just wasn't right.

Perhaps it was then that the final seed of incentive was planted for Nicklaus to go and fetch his first day 69. When he walked back into the tent afterwards, they were fighting for seats. "Tell us about your back, Jack," they said.

And after Friday's 66 it was standing room only and the great man was in his element. A bit of serious golf talk, a bit of joshing, a slice of philosophy... there was no stopping him.

Outside, his wife Barbara waited with practised patience. Finally she said to one of the journalists craning to hear at the crowded entrance to the interview room: "If they don't stop him soon, he'll miss his tee- off time tomorrow."

AS HARD-BITTEN a bunch as you'll ever find hogging a clubhouse bar, golf writers do draw the line somewhere - and at the annual dinner of the Association of Golf Writers in the Royal and Ancient marquee on Tuesday evening it was drawn under a speech made by Sandy Jones, executive director of the Professional Golfers Association.

Sandy's address, made on behalf of the guests, was peppered with references a little too pungent for some of the assembled audience which included members of the European Ryder Cup team and leading lights from the golfing world. I must confess that I have unashamedly used several similar jokes in speeches at golf clubs without drawing complaint; nor a lot of laughter come to that. Perhaps there's a lower level of expectation when a down- at-heel hack gets to his feet.

Officials worried that the top table guest Judy Bell, first woman president of the United States Golf Association, would be offended were relieved when she confessed that Jones's Scottish accent had been beyond her.

FOLLOWING the Open has brought many golf fans their first experience of the dreaded Blackpool landladies but they are not all as bad as they are painted. The artist Harold Riley, whose work in golf is highly regarded, asked his landlady to provide an alarm clock so that he could get to the course early.

She did better than that and insisted on rapping on his door at the required time of 5.30 with a tray containing a hearty breakfast and a bath-plug. "Since you are famous," she said, "I won't charge you a deposit on the plug."

A POSSE of US marshals have been establishing law and order out on Lytham's wild 12th hole and claim to be the first to complete the Grand Slam in crowd control. Hugh Tavernier, Ned Hoffman and Rob Donaldson were room- mates at Finlay College, Ohio, 30 years ago and have kept in touch by volunteering as crowd marshals at tournaments around the US.

It occurred to them a few years ago that they needed only to officiate at the Open to make it a full set of major championships. They first got the taste at the US Masters in 1986, coincidentally the scene of Jack Nicklaus's great comeback, and then wagged their "Quiet" signs at the 1993 USPGA at Toledo and the 1994 US Open at Oakmount.

There is never any shortage of volunteers for the hundreds of marshalling jobs at a championship but Lytham looked kindly on their plea and they are enjoying their first visit. "Your golf fans are very well behaved," said Tavernier, "but they're a little older than ours." It's probably because we're an older country.

ENCOURAGING Peter Hedblom in his unenviable task of partnering Nicklaus yesterday was a small entourage that included one unlikely figure who could have probably outshouted the Golden Bear's adoring throng on his own. The comedian Frank Carson once played with the 26-year-old Swede in a pro-am before the Irish Open and made him laugh so much they became friends.

Carson, who plays off a handicap of 14, was having the exact opposite of a quiet drink in the Lytham clubhouse on Friday night. He told me he's bringing out a new golf book next week. It's called "How to Leave your Fourth Putt Stone Dead".