Me and my Da: How golf bridges the gap between Dublin and London
‘We’ll have a pint in Drumcondra just as the British Open leaders tee off ... and talk about the time he caused Tiger Woods to miss a putt’
Alan Rownan (right) and his dad share a love of golf.
“How are things in London?”
“Ah grand,” I say, “all good back home?”
“Well, I was hitting the ball great at the range yesterday, don’t know what happened today.”
At home in Drumcondra in Dublin, my parents are back from a Sunday carvery and I know with a high degree of certainty that my mother is rolling her eyes at the dramatic performance as it unfolds before her. I listen intently from our rented flat in north west London, as I often hear the odd huff or puff as my father regales the drama of his game at Corballis Links Golf Club in Donabate earlier that day.
My mother isn’t bothered that my father is getting a terrible bounce, and finished in a deep bunker despite hitting his best drive of the day straight down the middle of the fairway. In fact, I think if I asked her, what’s the least important thing we could talk about, this would be it. She’ll often divert to more important business.
“Are you still happy in London?”
“Any more on Brexit?”
“What’s happening with Boris?”
Perhaps similarly to Boris Johnson, I shimmy away from answering the difficult questions. I need to talk about golf with my da every week. It’s the mindfulness book on the shelf and the meditation app on my phone rolled into one. We talk about games he played 10 hours ago, games we played together 20 years ago, and everything in between. We talk about Pádraig Harrington winning back to back British Open championships, and how my da winning a monthly medal at his golf club also makes him a “major” winner, and how he can relate to Harrow in a way that I can’t comprehend.
He took me on the train to see Tiger Woods play 2002-WGC American Express Championship at Mount Juliet. It was all going so well until mydDa made Tiger Woods miss a putt by accidentally standing on a fallen branch as we clambered to high ground to catch a glimpse. Tiger looked in our general direction, clearly peeved at the snapping branch. My da looked over his shoulder, throwing an unwarranted judgmental gaze and shake of the head at an oblivious spectator eating a sandwich. To this day, my da clings to the concept of plausible deniability – that guy was chewing too loudly – but there is a glint in his eye when he says it.
Playing golf has taken a back seat since I moved to London five years ago. My clubs gathered dust under the stairs in Dublin while I worked a night shift doing admin in the bowels of a London hospital. It was good money, but terrible work. I’d start a 12-hour shift at 6.30pm and that meant braving the London rush hour while everyone was on their way home. Some of the filing rooms had low-hanging pipes. Banging your head on lead pipes at 4am is far more effective than a double espresso to get you through those last few hours, although I wouldn’t recommend it.
The hospital was just a stones-throw away from Hyde Park, where the early risers were doing their morning stretches, getting warmed up for a big day in “the city”. I travelled to and from work on the Bakerloo line as bankers, many of whom were younger than me, filled the carriages. Tailored suits, slicked hair, briefcases, confidence and arrogance. I didn’t feel like a part of the city, or that I ever would be. This was a city full of business people and I didn’t even have a business card.
I worked, while the city slept. My partner tells me of how down I seemed one afternoon in a café near Borough market at London Bridge, just a few hours before my next shift. I don’t remember that day, or that conversation at all, so either I was overtired or blocked it from my memory. She tells me what coffee I had, how I talked about wanting to move back to Dublin, that London wasn’t for me. What was I thinking coming here?
No matter how many details she furnishes me with, I draw a blank. I know that time was difficult for her too. Her career was flying, but I was treading water.
But the London I live in now is different, and I do have a business card. Being the curious sort, I landed a job in research and have progressed well. I think the Irish have a high emotional intelligence, because I’m pretty sure that’s half the reason I was able to do well. I’ve made good friends along the way.
When I’d talk to my parents on the Sunday nights back in the early London days, I’d probably give them the exact same answer I give now that tells them absolutely nothing. Being honest, it must be frustrating even dialling my number on a Sunday knowing they’re going to hit a brick wall, more often than not.
These days, I hope my tone confers a different message in the higher pitch I speak that shows some genuine enthusiasm and sincerity.
Then inevitably, almost involuntarily, I’ll pivot the conversation.
“Did you play today?”
“Didn’t hit it great.”
Sighs from my ma.
Last year, we went to the British Open at Carnoustie in Scotland. Eleven years earlier we sat in Drumcondra watching Harrington clinch victory on this monster. This was hallowed ground for Irish golfers. After a few hours supporting Wicklow man Paul Dunne and getting sunburned ears for our troubles, we found an uncolonised sand dune and waited for Tiger. He played through, bringing thousands with him. We joined the fray. He made some putts, missed others. There was an electricity in the crowd and it being a links, free of trees, not a branch in sight for my da to snap this time.
This year, on Sunday morning, as the leaders in Portrush loosen up on the range, I’ll be 248km south, playing Corballis with my da - a last-minute flight booked. Afterwards, we’ll have a pint in Drumcondra just as the leaders tee off.
We’ll talk about the time the branch snapped (or didn’t) as Tiger took a putt, and how he we saw him stalking the fairways at The Open last year, and how it felt like the old days at Mount Juliet.
Then we’ll embark on the altogether more serious business of predicting who will be crowned the 2019 Open Champion.
And if and when he asks about London, I’ll tell him London is grand (and it really is), but I’d prefer to talk about Tiger.