Inspiration from the Open

Feature image: Barclay Howard / Credit: The Gazette

I can’t think of any words that I could write that would add to, or embellish, the flood of tributes directed to Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson for playing one of the truly flawless golf matches of all time on Sunday.  I say “matches” quite consciously, because the two surely believed, along with the rest of the world, that yesterday’s final round would be a mano-à-mano contest from the first tee on, in which one or the other would emerge the victor.

Yet no one – including the two combatants themselves, I’m sure – would have predicted or expected them to play their rounds in near perfection, like Nureyev and Fonteyn, or Torvil and Dean.  But they did.  And they created a Match for the Ages, just as Watson and Nicklaus did 39 years ago at Turnberry.

For all the golf I’ve watched in my aging life, there are two inspiring rounds that stick out in my mind – not just great victories, of which there are many, by many different golfers.  But those two rounds are the Duel in the Sun in 1977, and now, the Duel in the Dunes at Troon, in 2016.

Well done and thank you, Henrik and Phil.


I didn’t see it on the Saturday telecast – a 1-year-old grandson can certainly interfere with your concentration – but later in the day, a Scottish friend of mine posted a link to a Jimmy Roberts profile of a gentleman named Barclay Howard.

If you also didn’t see it, or didn’t pay attention to it, here’s the link.  Go ahead… I’ll wait for you to watch it:

(Barclay Howard was an old friend of my new Scottish friend, Ian Stewart, from Glasgow, whom I got to know last summer during my lifelong-awaited golf trip to southern Scotland.  Ian is a former photo-journalist, and a great friend of retired Canadian photo-journalist Doug Ball, who led the trip.  Doug introduced me to both Ian and to Chris Smith, a lifelong member and former Captain at Carnoustie GC, and a mutual friend of the two.  Making my own friendships with these three gentlemen has been the most lasting and most valued aspect of that most memorable fortnight a year ago.  But I digress…)

I found Jimmy Roberts’s profile very moving on many levels.  I would’ve watched that Open Championship at Troon, in 1997, where Barclay finished as low Am.  But for the life of me, I don’t remember the name of Barclay Howard.  I was completely unaware of the Howard story until I watched the Roberts piece from Ian’s Facebook post.

I wish I could say that I have my own, similar Barclay Howard story, but I don’t.  I certainly have some stories of people that I’ve known who’ve had great talent at golf (and many other pursuits), but who, like Barclay, also had a great talent at drinking.  Unfortunately, none of them had an epiphany like Barclay did.  None of them went on to greater glory like Barclay did, redeeming his soul and glorifying his god-given talent at the most Scottish of games, before he died of leukemia at 55.

Just last week, I was playing golf with a couple of old pals and one gent’s name came up.  We realized we hadn’t seen him in over three years.  He’d resigned from our club.  One of my pals said he’d heard that this fellow wasn’t well, but we all knew what that meant.  Pity, we all said, he was such a fine fellow and beautiful golfer.

That brought up another name of someone we’d all played with, and liked, but who had been in and out of alcohol rehab, a few times.  Then another.  Then I thought of yet another chap that I’d grown up with, who truly had PGA Tour potential, before drink and drugs – and ultimately violent crime – invaded his bright future.

It seems rare, in 2016, to know people who struggle with alcohol today… or at least, a lot rarer than it did, say 30 years, or 50 years ago when my parents’ generation was littered with people who been beaten by booze.  The diagnosis today seems to attach alcoholism to a genetic pre-disposition, but then I know many children of alcoholics who enjoy one or more drinks but know when to stop, and don’t have a problem with it.

I guess the point of this ramble is, what a particular shame it is when alcohol, or drugs, or some other debilitating influence like depression, or physical injury – or even poverty — can prevent a person with a particular talent from being able to pursue the full manifestation of it.  And conversely, how wonderful it can be in those rare cases – like Barclay Howard – when sheer will and determination, and the support of loved ones and friends, can turn the situation around.

Ian and Chris will read this and write me back and tell me if Barclay’s story ever influenced anyone they know to turn their own lives around for the better.  I hope it did.

That’s what resurrection truly means.


Jim Deeks
Jim Deeks has been writing for Fairways for over a dozen years. He is a former Executive Director of the Canadian Open and Canadians Skins Game, and currently the Executive Producer and Host of CANADA FILES on PBS.

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