HAVING GATHERED together what the sponsors think of as a galaxy of stars for what they would like to believe is a celebration of links golf, it would have been a shame for the competitors in the Dunhill Links Championship not to have experienced golf in Scotland to the full. They got everything yesterday: fog, wind and rain, which meant the nightmare scenario came about for a tournament ambitiously staged over three courses. Play had to be suspended overnight at Kingsbarns and the players will return in the morning before being shuttled back to the Old Course for their second rounds.
With everyone in waterproofs and hats, it was hard to tell who were the pros and who were the celebs, especially in the case of Steve Elkington and Clay Walker. Elkington is a former USPGA champion, Walker a country and western star. Elkington had a 71 at the Old Course, a score Walker was able to improve by 12 strokes for the Houston-based duo to lead the team event at 13 under. That immediately raised the sort of handicapping questions often faced at pro-ams but hardly acceptable in an Order of Merit event worth pounds 3.5m to the professionals.
Walker's debut album was called Dreaming with My Eyes Open and that was exactly what he was doing as he made three net eagles, at the fifth, tenth and 15th, and four net birdies, including one at the fearsome Road Hole, the 17th.
"Teeing up at St Andrews brought tears to my eyes," Walker said. "I've played Augusta and Pebble Beach many times but nothing compares to St Andrews. That R&A building, wow, that scares me." It was nothing to the inquisition that went on after his round. Walker brought with him a certified handicap certificate from the Champions Club in Houston, where Elkington is also a member, of 11. But following a practice round on Wednesday, the Championship Committee decided to cut his handicap to seven. The change was not made prior to Walker teeing off though, so his card was still made out by the tournament office for 11 shots.
It was more cock-up than conspiracy and John Paramor, the chief referee, confirmed: "There is no question of any skulduggery or breach of the rules." But confusion reigned over Walker's handicap. The Championship Committee first stated that Walker had scored a "level par" round on the Old Course in practice on Wednesday. Estimates of his score vary, Walker saying he had a 74 and Elkington saying it was a 79.
Later, the Championship Committee stated that "Elkington, who plays a lot of golf with Clay, confirmed that before today he hasn't been able to break 90 since arriving on Scotland." And yet …