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Reignited connection

Sun., July 21, 2013, midnight

Mark O'Meara turned back the clock with an opening-round 67 at the British Open. (Associated Press)
Mark O'Meara turned back the clock with an opening-round 67 at the British Open. (Associated Press)

Friday: Over the years, I’ve written about more athletes than there are people in line to ride the Matterhorn at Disneyland. But you never forget your first. And my first published story was about Mark O’Meara.

Yep, it happened more than 30 years ago. One of my first full-time jobs after college was as an assistant sports information director at Long Beach State. Though I helped with football – the first road trip I remember was to Boise, where I was impressed with the tree-lined streets and friendly people – my emphasis was on other sports.

And then SID Terry Ross had me write features on 49ers athletes. That included Mark O’Meara. I interviewed the reigning U.S. Amateur champion on his decision to leave Long Beach and turn professional. As we were almost the same age and had both spent most of our life in Southern California, we had a basis of knowledge to draw from, which always makes an interview easier.

Afterward, I put together the feature and Terry sent it out as a press release. Lo and behold, the Orange County Register liked it and ran it complete under my byline (newspaper ethics, at least at the Register, were a little looser then), listing me as a contributor or something.

I have the story in a box somewhere at home (my dad clipped it for me and gave it to me, along with every other byline I had in the paper before moving to Spokane), so I could prove it if I had to.

O’Meara went on to a pretty decent professional career, his two major wins overshadowed a bit by a relationship he was to develop later on with Tiger Woods, who grew up down the road from Long Beach State in Cypress.

But whenever he teed it up, O’Meara had at least one fan in his corner, someone I’m sure he’s forgotten about but who can’t ever forget about him.

Thursday: The British Open is underway. But I think there is a problem with my TV set in the hotel and no matter how much I adjust it, it isn’t working. The grass doesn’t look green. That’s one of the perks of The Open Championship (capital letters and pretension added by the Royal and Ancient).

When it’s been a dry summer in the British Isles, the fairways of the world’s oldest golf clubs dry out. Muirfield, site of this year’s Open, is no exception.

No expansive and expensive sprinkler systems here. It’s about golf at its essence. Primitive. It’s also foreign, in more ways than one.

In the states, we play mainly on tracks that look like a well-maintained park. There is grass everywhere, dark green grass, along with trees, water and an occasional sand trap.

Oh, sure, there are links-style courses around but the prototypical American course has as much correlation to what we are seeing on ESPN today as a toy poodle has to a Great Dane. Same species, different animals. It’s part of the charm of the game.

I’m pretty sure if you wanted, you could travel around the world for a year, play golf every week and never play two courses that had a similar feel. There is that much variety in the tracks.

Of course, when you are a pro, you are expected to adjust your game to the layout, like Dustin Johnson hitting a 230-yard 7-iron that skittered along the ground like a squirrel chased by a Black Lab. But for someone of my playing ilk, the game would stay the same (poor) and the results would vary wildly (from poor to really bad), depending on the wind, the rain and a heck of a lot of luck.

But it sure would be fun, wouldn’t it? As long as I had a free supply of golf balls.


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