Iíd like to say, first, that I think this is poor thinking: If you can play the British Open you should. But Iím not going to lay out all my arguments for that thinking, because the pros could validly say: Whoís he to criticize us? Whatís he ever done?
Nothing. Thatís what Iíve ever done, and I admit it.
What Iím going to do instead is relate the strange tale of Brad Faxon, a fellow who happens to agree with my way of thinking and who, in 2000, acted upon that philosophy-in spades. The experience saw him win big for losing, profit mightily by suffering the humbling experience of having not qualified for an event. The stuff and substance behind this apparent paradox says something about golf today, and speaks volumes about the man.
A little backstory: Faxon was on the ropes late in the 1999 season, vis-a- vis earnings and future tournament exemptions, as a divorce and then a broken wrist had taken a toll on his results. Then, all of a sudden, he did a terrific thing: He won the B.C. Open, which boosted him solidly into the middle echelon of money winners and won him invitations that would allow him to sleep peacefully for another 12 months at least. Good for him.
So he awoke in 2001 and looked at the golfing calendar. It showed that the B.C. Open, of which he was now defending champion, was to be played on the same weekend as the British Open, for which he had not qualified. I feel confident in saying that 99 out of 100 PGA Tour players would have gone back to the B.C. Open, no question. They would have gone with the confidence that they play well there, and that they stood an excellent chance of a large payday since the Woodses of the world would be in the auld country, scything gorse.
Brad is the hundredth. He, a modest guy from Rhode Island, and would not put it this way, but we will: He is the exceptional exception.
Faxon feels that many pros, particularly American pros, donít care enough about the game. They take much from golf-much in money, much in fame-but give little back. They have scant sense of tradition. If they think they havenít got a good chance of winning a particular tournament, or if the event is the least bit inconvenient to get to, then they give it a miss, even if itís a competition of some importance. "I do feel too many Americans skip the British," Faxon says. "Iíve been saying that for some time. Itís a great tournament, and if youíre lucky enough to be among the gameís elite, you should play it. Look, if you have a 20-year career, thatís 80 majors you might be able to play. You should feel honored to play them. If your reason for not going to the British Open is that itís too expensive or too inconvenient, then I donít buy that. Itís only a six- hour flight. Itís not like thatís something we donít do in this business."
With this as his philosophy, Faxon called the folks at the B.C. Open and told them he was going to go to Britain to try and qualify. His conversations with the folks in Endicott were very polite. Then Faxon told the PGA Tour of his plans: That he hoped to make the draw at the millennial Open at St. Andrews, but that if he failed he would dash back to the States and defend his title in the American tournament. "They said I couldnít do it, that it was fine-able behavior, that I had to commit to the B.C. Open. I said, ĎHey, guys, you ought to think this over. Weíre supposed to be about golf and its traditions here.í " Ultimately, the Tour, which is at least as much about money as it is about golf and its traditions, capitulated perhaps realizing that to interfere in what was obviously a noble, somewhat Quixotic effort would mean bad press.
"I went to London Links, where the qualifier was being held, and they treated me wonderfully," Faxon says. "The club captain gave me a necktie, and said I could play there any time, the rest of my life. They realized what I was doing. Iíll tell you, once youíre established in this game, it does kind of make you suck up your ego to be playing a qualifier, but those folks made me feel just great."
"The first day was beautiful, and I played well. The second day the wind really came up, and I missed getting into the tournament by a couple of shots. That night Dory and I went to dinner with Davis Love and his wife, and David Duval and his girlfriend, and they were congratulating me for trying. David said he wouldnít have done it, and I thought to myself ĎReally? A guy in his position?í He said he wouldíve played the B.C. Open."
"Which, of course, was what I was going to do now." Brad and Dory flew out in the morning, and by Wednesday Brad was teeing it up in the weekly pro-am event, then, on Thursday, beginning his title defense. Gosh, the golf was nothing like London Links. But itís easier to go in this directionScottish linksstyle golf back to our parkland gamerather than switch from our game to theirs. I played well from the beginning, everything was on, and the wrist, which had still been hurting early in the season, felt okay." By Sunday Faxon had the lead, and he still held itbut barely at the 18th tee, when he sent his tee shot far right towards the forest. "It went right through the trees and out it came." A chip and a putt and the trophy was his for another year.
"Obviously that week was a highlight of my season," says Faxon, who got his winnings total back up toward a million for the year. "It was a funny season for me golfwise, what with trying to get my game right again after the wrist thing. But overall Iíd say I had a pretty good year." Better than pretty good, in other ways: On September 15th at the Ritz in Boston, he remarried, to the aforementioned Dory. "Doryís a Rhode Islander too," says Faxon. "Everythingís good right nowthe golf, the wrist and best of all Dory."
The golf, in 2001, has been very good for Faxon, with a big win early in Hawaii and a rise into the top ten in money winning and top 15 in Ryder Cup points. He is not, therefore, making friends with club captains today in Fairhaven or Hillside or Southport & Ainsdale or the St. Annes Old Links, where final British Open qualifying is being staged. Heís already into the main draw, which is too bad for his many fans in Endicott, N.Y., but good for golf. Such as Brad Faxon should be in the majors. He is. Weíre rooting for him.