Associate Athletic Director Kevin Blue ('05) is traveling with the men's golf team on their foreign tour to Scotland. Blue was an Academic All-American and men's golf team captain during his playing career at Stanford, and will be providing updates to GoStanford.com throughout the tour.
Turnberry, Scotland - There are certain experiences in the life of a competitive golfer that are forever remembered. Many players on the Stanford team can clearly recall when they made their first birdie, broke par for the first time, or won their first tournament. Thanks to the generous support of several donors - many who are traveling with us - our players will undergo experiences in the next few days that are sure to create similar lifelong memories. They will compete in Scotland, the "Home of Golf", at courses that are etched in the history of the sport. Some of these venues regularly play host to the Open Championship, the oldest major championship in golf.
Stanford Men's Golf at Turnberry
After landing at Heathrow and connecting to Glasgow, today's main event was a non-competitive round on Scotland's west coast at the Ailsa Course at Turnberry.
The Ailsa Course has hosted the Open Championship on four occasions. For the Stanford program, it can be argued that Turnberry holds a degree of significance beyond other courses in the Open rota, since these are the grounds upon which Stanford All-American Tom Watson ('71) established, and later reinforced, his status as one of the great Open champions of all time.
It was here in 1977 that Watson defeated Jack Nicklaus on the final hole of regulation after four days of magnificent play in what is famously known as the "Duel in the Sun". Watson came to Turnberry's final hole with a one-stroke lead over Nicklaus, who had won two Open Championships and 14 majors by that point in his career and was long established as the dominant player in the world. Watson clinched the championship by striking a seven-iron from 177 yards that ended up two feet from the hole, a shot that is commemorated by a plaque in the eighteenth fairway that many of the Stanford players today stopped by to pay tribute to. It was Watson's second of five eventual Open Championships.
Incredibly, 32 years later, in 2009 at the "experienced" age of 59 - a full 38 years after graduating from Stanford with a BA in Psychology - Watson again made his way to Turnberry's eighteenth hole in the final round with a one-stroke lead in the Open Championship. Make par and Watson would become the unlikeliest of major champions, setting the record for oldest major winner by 13 years. Followers of golf understood how impossible this was - in tennis terms, a Watson victory would be equivalent to Jimmy Connors entering the main draw of Wimbledon today, making it all the way to the finals by beating the best current players in the world, and needing only to hold serve for one last game to win the championship.
Just like 1977, and just like he had all week in 2009, Watson played two pure shots onto the green in regulation, only this time around his second shot took an unlucky firm bounce, leapt past the hole and trickled over the back of the green into a position from which he failed to convert his up and down for par. Stewart Cink ended up winning the Open in a playoff against Watson, but the 2009 Open Championship will forever be remembered for the masterful and unlikely performance of the Stanford All-American. That a Stanford golf alum would be in contention at Turnberry in 2009 was not in itself surprising - Tiger Woods, who actually missed the cut that week, was the clear world number one at the time - but nobody could have suspected it would be Watson.
The current players were acutely aware of Stanford's ties to Turnberry, and used the opportunity of this non-competitive round to stretch out after several hours of travel from San Francisco. Initial eligibility meetings were yesterday, which meant that today's round at Turnberry was the first official team activity for freshmen Dominic Francks (Olympia, Wash.) and David Boote (Surrey, England) - not a bad way to start a college career.
There were several notable highlights, including sophomore Patrick Grimes (Palo Alto, CA) making birdie at the first hole without any warm up after coming directly from the Glasgow airport after 14 hours of travel. Senior Wilson Bowen (Winetka, IL) and junior Shane Lebow (Santa Barbara, CA) both concluded their rounds with birdie on the eighteenth hole, a score that they surely would have traded with Watson in 2009 if they could.
The day concluded with dinner in the clubhouse at Turnberry and a lecture about Robert Burns, the famous poet who is a native of nearby Ayrshire.
Men's Golf Coaches Discuss the Upcoming Season
In addition to creating a remarkable life experience for the team, Knowles Family Director of Golf Conrad Ray ('97) is clear that this trip to Scotland is also about business.
"This trip is obviously a `once in a lifetime' opportunity that we are extremely grateful for. The players and coaches are very appreciative of the donors who made this possible for us, and we want this trip to be an unforgettable educational experience for these young men who have dedicated so much of their lives to the sport of golf." Ray continued, "At the same time, our guys know that we have high expectations at Stanford, and this year is no different. This trip is an excellent opportunity for our guys to test themselves under conditions that we don't see very often at home, and for Coach Rowe and me to evaluate where everyone's game is as we start the fall season."
This trip is also a homecoming of sorts for Phil Rowe ('02), the Enlight Foundation Assistant Coach for Men's Golf. Phil is a native of Cornwall, England and frequently represented the U.K. in international competitions during his playing career, including the 1999 Walker Cup where he holed a putt to clinch the championship for Great Britain and Ireland. Phil also competed in the 2000 Open Championship at the Old Course at St. Andrew's, which the team will visit later in the week. Phil is an outstanding mentor for the players, and today talked about how excited he is that the team is able to experience golf in the British Isles.
"I am delighted for our players to have the chance to play over here. The shotmaking situations presented by British links courses are unlike anything that is seen in other parts of the world. It's great for them to be forced to learn how to deal with the wind, firmness, and rain, and have to think their way around these layouts. The types of shots they will need to learn here to be successful will help them deal with other situations that they face throughout the year. This trip is also a great time for us to come together as a group and gather a great team spirit to start the year."
Tomorrow is the first match of the trip at Western Gailes, a traditional links on the west coast a few miles away from here. Stay tuned to for additional updates throughout the week from Scotland.