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The Long and Winding Road to the Claret Jug

The Sports Professor’s Weekly Sports and Entertainment Dollar
July 18, 2014
By Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek

Shortly before the 143rd Open Championship began in earnest on Thursday at England’s Royal Liverpool Golf Club, ESPN pop quizzed a handful of young PGA and European Tour stars on camera to see if they could name all four members of Liverpool’s most famous offering to the world, The Beatles.

Sadly, Englishmen Justin Rose and Ian Poulter, both in their 30s, were quite lost, getting only a couple of band members right. American Bubba Watson couldn’t name a single one. And the only “Beatle” Irish Rory McIlroy could name was “George Lucas” – better known to Star Wars nuts than rock fans.

John, Paul, George, and Ringo aside, the treacherous links course more familiarly known as Hoylake has also made its mark on the sports world over time. Most notably, the Hoylake/Royal Liverpool grounds were the site of Tiger Woods’ third Open Championship win in 2006, when Woods, still mourning the death of his father and mentor Earl, carded his 11th Major and became the first player to win the Open back to back since Tom Watson pulled off the feat in 1982-1983.

While all eyes are still on Woods, he’s been Major-less since 2008. And at this year’s Open Championship, he’s still recovering from a serious back injury that forced him to have surgery in March and miss the year’s first two majors.

Woods, who stated “first” as the only acceptable finish position for himself in pretournament interviews, played into contention on Day 1, finishing only three strokes off McIlroy’s first round lead. And since his total winnings in 2014 so far are $100,916 – likely not even enough to pay the doctor bills – Woods probably wouldn’t mind taking home the £975,000 bestowed on this year’s Open Championship winner, out of total purse of £5.4 million and a significant jump over the $4 million purse and $720,000 winner’s check distributed in 2006.

Interestingly, July, 2006 was also when Twitter was launched, and while they’re lousy at Beatle naming, Poulter, Watson, and McIlroy have used the social media platform to perfection to help build their on and off course brands.

Thanks to a massive fiber optic network installation and a relaxing of “no cellphone” rules, spectators around the Royal Liverpool grounds with mobile phone and tablets are able to watch BBC tournament coverage, track their favorite players, get scoring updates – and yes, tweet, although taking photos is prohibited.

The R&A, the ruling body for golf in the U.K., last year "installed wireless signals as an experiment," according to the Associated Press, and it was "so pleased with the result that it now has installed its own fiber optic network at most of the links courses where it holds The Open." This year’s Open Championship is believed to be the first Major to offer wireless in every grandstand, and the signal strength, according to R&A Communications Director Malcolm Booth, “allows 20,000 fans to stream video at the same time.”

"Technology is something golf has to embrace and people are going to feel a great benefit this year,” summed up R&A CEO Peter Dawson.

Woods is a vocal opponent of on-course mobile technology. Toward the end of his first round on Thursday, he backed off a couple of shots and scolded cellphone camera-wielding journalists and spectators in a nearby corporate tent who had their phones out, and complained about cellphone photo violations in his presser afterward. Perhaps he was having flashbacks – back in 2006, the cellphone picture abuse was so bad at Royal Liverpool that the R&A banned mobile devices from The Open for the next five years.

But Woods has to be pleased with broadcast partner ESPN’s “All Tiger, All the Time” Open coverage. Part of ESPN’s package includes an exclusive Woods broadcast on ESPN3 where fans watching at home can see view every Woods shot live. The blanket coverage is meant to complement ESPN’s primary coverage and allow other golf fans to “get to just watch the players in contention without having to break to see what Tiger is doing,” as Florida Today’s Mike Parsons put it. (ESPN’s main broadcast is still heavily Tiger-centric, however.)

Nine time Grand Slam champion Gary Player is no Fool on the Hill, and there’s no doubt it would take the cultured Player less than a split second to name the Fab Four. But Player currently has more important business in mind.

Immediately after the Open Championship concludes, London’s historic Wentworth Club will see an impressive rally for charity as the Berenberg Gary Player Invitational welcomes 27 of the world’s top golf pros. The golfing stars will join tournament host Player along with prominent celebrity and business guests to compete in the “Union of Golf and Giving” on July 20-21.

Player, whose trio of Open Championship wins spans three decades (1959, 1968, and 1974), is proud that 30 years later, the Gary Player Invitational has raised over $50 million for underprivileged children and impoverished communities in China, America, Europe, and South Africa.  “We’ve changed the lives of a lot of people,” he said.

“This year is sure to be yet another unique and memorable event,” Player added. “With the support of our wonderful sponsors, like Berenberg, we are able to deliver some of the world’s finest golf experiences and, in doing so, create powerful fundraising platforms for those less fortunate than ourselves.”

The Berenberg Gary Player Invitational pairs invited business guests with a PGA or European Tour Professional, LPGA or LET Professional, and celebrities.  This year the field includes current U.S. Open Champion Martin Kaymer, Australian Jason Day, and LPGA World No. 4 Suzann Pettersen.

“We play a lot of tournament golf throughout the year and attend many Pro-Am events,” said Day, “but this is one that I’ve really wanted to attend for some time now. Off the back of such a high-pressure week as The Open, it will be great to join so many of my peers and leading ladies Tour Professionals for the event to raise funds for charity.”

Or to put his quote in Beatle-speak, the Player event will follow many a Hard Days Night in Liverpool before the Open Championship Claret Jug is awarded on Sunday.

Follow Rick Horrow (@RickHorrow) and Karla Swatek (@kswak) on Twitter.

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