As the Ryder Cup battle heightened in Gleneagles, a quintet of middle-aged European fans sat huddled by a telly in The Wee Dram pub in Auchterarder, no more than a Rory McIlroy drive and wedge away from the action.
In return for giving away their final day admission tickets, worth £175 each, to their landlord, a bear of a man called Tall Tam, they had been offered a reserved inglenook in the hostelry, complete with a free tab.
That Vinny Fizpatrick and four pals chose to bypass the Ryder Cup end-game and plonk their ample backsides on bar stools instead, seemed curious, but age, athletic infirmity and over indulgence had overtaken them.
"If we were on the European team, we'd ask Paul McGinley to put our names in the envelope and plead for a half with Tom Watson, " joked Vinny over scrambled eggs and smoked kippers at breakfast.
In truth, five days in the high sierra of Perthshire had taken its toll on the five-ball from Dublin, none of whom would ever see 49 again, except on the bus to Tallaght.
Gleneagles might have looked a picture on the TV with its tumbling fairways and verdant aspect but it was a nightmare to get around, especially for fellahs whose first flush of youth had long passed.
If Watson felt Phil Mickelson couldn’t play 36 holes in a day, what chance had Vinny, 12 years older than Lefty, and not quite as lissom, of putting in a double shift? It hadn’t helped that Charlie Vernon’s sciatica refused to settle and his mobility became increasingly hampered.
The lads agreed someone had to prop up Charlie at all times, which meant one of them staying around the first tee and 18th green as their stricken team leader couldn’t go any further.
“A bit like Tom Crean and Teddy Evans at the
Pole all those years ago, ‘we’re not leaving you behind, Charlie,’ ” quipped Vinny.
Even so, the week had been a hoot, with memories to last a lifetime. The first one being the craic around Friday’s opening fourballs. The lads had slipped out from their lodgings at six that morning, and made their way, in darkness, to the entrance gates.
Jupiter was winking down as they shuffled through the tiresome security cordon, paid-up members of McGinley’s Militia and giddy as kids at Christmas. By 6.30am, over an hour before the opening match, they were in position in the grandstand at the back of the first tee.
“Don’t suppose it’s too early for a Napper Tandy,” suggested Brennie, drawing out a hip flask, and passing it around. The next two hours were a blast as the raucous crowds, some well fuelled for the occasion, gave it loads.
After Watson was given a standing ovation, the anti-US jibes started: “10-6 and you still don’t win; 10-6 and you still don’t win.”
It was followed by Vinny's favourite, to the tune of Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep. "Where's the Tiger gone? Where's the Tiger gone?
Far, far away. Last night, I heard Tom Watson signing this song . . .”
As McGinley was joined by Pádraig Harrington and Des Smyth on the tee, Vinny glanced at the Sky Sports TV gantry where Darren Clarke was giving his spiel. He was no more than 30 paces from McGinley but the distance from his old friend had never been greater, thought Vinny.
Instead, Miguel Angel Jimenez was left to provide plenty of puff as the team's cigar ambassador. When "The Mechanic" did his warm-up routine and the roof lifted, Vinny turned to Brennie and said: "There's the European captain for 2016, get on now at 5/1."
Typical of McGinley’s thoroughness, there was a singing posse behind the tee who were way more imaginative than the lads at the Aviva, and had a ditty prepared for every European gladiator as he entered the arena.
For all the fun, there were nerves too, even for Ivor Robson, the silver-haired MC, who announced Bubba Watson on the tee for the opening shot, when Webb Simpson had already teed up. As for Simpson's spooned effort, Bart Simpson would have hit it further, felt Vinny.
There was a frenetic ovation when pale-faced Stephen Gallacher arrived. “He’s on his way home from a stag party,” cracked Fran.
The Scots were desperate to give Gallacher a gung-ho send off. “Glory, glory Stephen Gallacher; Glory, glory Stephen Gallacher . . . and the putts keep rolling in.”
Alas, the Robert E Lee marching refrain fell on deaf ears as Gallacher’s wojous first shot confirmed. “He’s banjaxed,” observed Macker.
When Rory McIlroy and Keegan Bradley showed each other their balls prior to battle a fan bellowed: “Mine’s a Pinnacle” to huge giggles. And then they were off, into the wild blue and brown yonder, in pursuit of old Sam Ryder’s prized trinket.
For two days, the lads had trailed them, traipsing up the cardiac climb on the third, suffocating in the queue to cross over from the ninth to the 10th, cursing the way the 18th was designed for corporate flunkies rather than genuine fans.
And then, late on Saturday night, after several large drams in
The Wee Dram they dropped anchor. Again Vinny thought of the stricken Scott on his ill-fated return from the Pole, unable to break camp. “I don’t think I can walk any more,” he said to himself.
The Five Find-Outers were fatigued. Their little legs were down to stumps and the thought of spending another six or seven hours on the hummocks of hell was a grim one.
It was Charlie who broke the ice. “Lads, I’m not going back tomorrow. I’ll stay here at base camp in The Wee Dram with my feet up. I’ve been a burden all week and must insist you carry on without me.”
There was a silence as the lads looked at the floor and then at one another. After a bit, Vinny spoke: “Charlie, we’ve been by your side and we’ve no appetite for desertion. I say, ‘where you go, we go.’ What d’ye reckon lads?”
There was instant agreement. A few minutes later, the deal with Tall Tam for Sunday's tickets had been negotiated and glasses were raised to Captain Fantastic, McGinley; "10-6 and we will win; 10-6 and we will win . . . ' Bets of the Week: 2pts Harp Star in Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (8/1, Boylesports) 1pt e/w Shane Lowry in Dunhill Links Championship (25/1, Skybet). Vinny's Bismarch: 1pt Lay Newcastle to beat Swansea in Premier League (7/2, William Hill, liability 3.5pts).