On Sunday at St. Andrews, I got the sense that golf had changed forever.
The major season had just come to a close. Cameron Smith, the winner of the Open Championship, was a rumored LIV commit — an intriguing turn in the latest chapter of a growing rift in the professional game. Other LIV pros addressed their uncertain futures as their tournaments wrapped. Paul Casey acknowledged his world ranking could soon plummet:
“I was fully aware of what might be,” he said.
Ian Poulter lamented his 62nd-place result:
“It could well be my last one. It’s a shame it didn’t finish how I wanted it to,” he said.
And Sergio Garcia put it most plainly:
“Things come to an end. It’s the way it is,” he said.
Everything was changing. Here, at the Home of Golf, European Ryder Cup stalwarts had bucked tradition in favor of a new reality. Henrik Stenson, European Ryder Cup captain, was on the verge of joining them too. Professional golf already looked different.
The face of professional golf was facing an uncertain future, too. Tiger Woods had already left town; two days had passed since his emotional walk up the 18th hole. With both Woods’ health and the Open’s schedule still up in the air, it’s not clear we’ll see Tiger on The Old again. In all, Sunday felt like the last day of school.
But Monday in St. Andrews felt like a timeless dream.
My day began as most of our post-major Mondays do. We wrap up stories for the week from the comforts of our company AirBnB (just how comfortable varies radically from event to event) and begin the process of traveling home.
This day was different. While housemates-for-the-week Alan Bastable and Josh Berhow set off early for Edinburgh, I stayed. My colleague Sean Zak had been living in St. Andrews all summer long and still had a month to go, so I’d booked my return flight for Tuesday. This way I’d get the chance to see his world.
We played St. Andrews’ Duke’s Course that morning, a parkland setup just outside of town that works its way through the woods but offers sweeping views back towards St. Andrews proper. It was a sweltering Scottish summer day — our cabbie told us it was the hottest he’d ever seen — so after we showered up and dropped our things at Sean’s flat, we set off for town. What followed was a glorious afternoon.
St. Andrews, a town of less than 20,000, rallies for its role as Open host. But there was something special about seeing the town snacp back to summer normalcy just one day later. The local fellas rolling down at the bowling club. The observance of day-to-day banalities, like checking for the duck-ducks in the Kinness Burn. The narrow alley-style walkways, which connect one cobblestone street to the next — but watch your head!
Our first official stop was the Dunvegan, the Old Course’s informal 19th hole, where we stopped for a pint and a bite. Two other golf writers — the PGA Tour’s Sean Martin and CBS’s Kyle Porter — were sitting out front when we arrived. They, too, had taken the extra day. Inside there was Bellhaven’s Best and Tennent’s and steak-and-ale pie. On the TVs, flanked by signed photos of popular pros, Rory McIlroy still held the Sunday lead. Cameron Smith was lurking.
The sun fell slowly lower as we left the Dunny and wandered down to see what was happening at the Old Course. Scotland’s summer days feel never-ending; the sun rises early and doesn’t set until 10 p.m., which means you could still be finishing up your round after most of the restaurants have closed.
We wandered into the bleachers behind the 18th green. A day before, these seats would have been priceless as the tournament reached its conclusion. Now it was just one curly haired young man named Caleb sitting in the front row. He was reading Ulysses.
We followed our curiosity around town the rest of the evening. First up into the giant yellow scoreboard, where SMITH still stood on top. Various important and/or lucky golfers were still finishing up on No. 18; we heard one of their tee shots crash-land into a van on the adjacent road. On our way to see the commotion we ran into part of NBC’s crew, including Paul Azinger and Mark Rolfing, who hadn’t yet left the bubble either.
Curiosity called us to rooftop bar at the Rusacks, where we encountered a celebratory dinner shared by Aussie writers Evin Priest and Ben Everill. Everything was visible from up there: Not just the shared fairway of 1 and 18 but also the rest of the course stretching into the sunset and the West Sands beach beyond. There was something anticlimactic in the evening, the sense that something important had just finished. But what remained was special, too.
Walking around St. Andrews gives the sense that things will endure. There’s the actual longevity of the place; the buildings that have stood for hundreds of years and the prestigious university was founded in 1413. The town’s foundations are strong, and if this is the home of golf, the game’s foundations are strong, too. Things change. Career paths shift. They end. But other things endure.
Our night kept ending; we had an ice cream nightcap at Jannetta’s and then stopped by Central Bar for a final-final. A group of University students sat at the table behind us. Our voices echoed down Market Street and into the night. Visitors have been coming to St. Andrews for nearly a millennium, searching for blessing and healing. Here were two more.