This week marks the last Major on the men’s golfing calendar for 2023. It’s the last chance for players to etch their names into the annals of golf history. And the last chance for wily punters to pick a winner at an event in which every player is desperately trying to peak.
Earlier today, I did what I do on the eve of every Major – I phoned Dad to see where his money’s going. Or another way to put it is, I phoned him to hear what I already knew.
Forget the form book. The strokes gained data. The stats, trends and trigonometry. Dad’s calculations are a much simpler affair. If you’re born on the island of Ireland, you’re getting backed, whether you like it or not.
Rory, Lowry, Power… the amateur Maguire – is he anything to Leona? What of it if he’s not. If he’s good enough to be in the field, he’s good enough for Dad. My dad, who’s stopped talking. Not a sound down the phone line. A giant elephant in the room.
And so I say it, because one of us has to… “Dad…. What about Harrington?”
I’ve written about Dad’s devotion to Padraig before. When Harrington beat Garcia in the playoff at Carnoustie in ‘07, it ended a lifetime of agony for both of them, and while Harrington filled the Claret Jug with ladybirds, Dad drank enough for two; a framed picture of himself and Padraig at the homecoming in Weston Airport hanging over the bar of the Salmon Leap Inn to commemorate one of the legendary sessions, where the phone calls of worried wives went ignored or unnoticed as the pub’s landline rang off the hook.
The connection is clear between myself and Dad now as we listen to the air of our breath. I can feel the guilt seeping through the phone. Dad likely standing by the Harrington fireplace in our front room which was paid for with the winnings. I can picture him staring at it like he would when it’s in full flame. He’d sit for hours hypnotised by the blaze, blissfully unaware of the ructions over his shoulder after lighting it mid-June just as Mam’s spent eight hours shining the mantelpiece.
And the guilt doesn’t end there. Far from it. If you didn’t know, sure didn’t Dad and Harrington double down the next year. We both travelled to Birkdale to roar on the champion to repeat the feat in ‘08. I’d got used to the luxury of the fireplace, despite the dust rising. Who knew what another victory could bring? I certainly didn’t envisage the garage getting knocked and an extension built; Dad’s stash of Pope books from the papal visit in 1979 rehoused as the ‘Harrington Wing’ was erected.
Had the old man somehow forgotten all this? Had Father Time faded the memories of the glory days of old? Because I certainly didn’t forget, and while the likelihood of a 51-year old winning The Open is remote – one in a hundred in this instance – far stranger things have happened, which is why words failed me as Dad finally muttered something down the line to explain Harrington’s absence from his betting slips.
“Will he have the stamina for four rounds?”
If you’re reading this Pádraig, I hope you take that personally. Will he have the stamina for four rounds, asks a man who came within two seconds of breaking the 3-hour barrier at the Belfast marathon when he was 51 himself, a Herculean effort fuelled on a diet of spuds and porter.
“Of course he does,” I shouted. Me, an enabler. Trying to do to Dad what Padraig had done for years. Talking up his chances, filling him with hope just like Harrington in the Irish Times. Telling himself he could win whether he believed it or not. And Dad only too happy to read it. Sure isn’t he still at it? I’ve the quotes in front of me. In black and white print before my eyes, a smiling Harrington boldly declares, “I can go and win this, there’s no doubt about it.”
No doubt! Dad, you’d be a feckin’ eejit not to back him! What if he wins? Or even places. You’ll be kicking yourself for eternity. If he believes he can win a third, you should too. You’re both on for the hat-trick. Few men have managed it. And how many more chances will you get? 100-1! What a bonanza it would be. Fireplace. Extension. What next?
“He could pay for his funeral,” I hear Mam shout in the background.
Fat chance of that. 200-1 plus… Life’s for living after all. And much like Harrington swings flat out, Dad intends to leave nothing behind either. That’s just the way he rolls, cruising alongside Harrington in his sidecar down the fast lane of life. Wind in the hair, tossing the few strands that are left. Adrenaline pumping. The blacks of Harrington’s eyes bursting through the telly down the stretch, and Dad’s heart racing after him. The most it’s pumped since his marathon days. I can feel the electricity down the phone. The goosebumps on the line. Hope restored. Unbridled belief.
“Feck it! I’ll back him so,” he finally relents. How could he not after all that? The hairs on both our necks standing to attention. The static crackling the line. The band getting back together in Beatles country. Royal Liverpool. What better stage for one last dance?