Never mind the challenge of working your way around a British Open course.
For Jhonattan Vegas, merely getting to Scotland was a wild adventure.
“It almost seemed like it was a horror movie happening for the past week,” said the Venezuelan golfer, who barely made it to Carnoustie for his 10:30 a.m. tee time Thursday.
He was supposed to arrive here last Friday, giving him plenty of time to rest up and prepare. But at the last minute, he discovered his visa was set to expire on the day he was traveling. So he went to the consulate in New York last Thursday and applied for another visa. He didn’t get an immediate response, so he waited through the weekend.
On Monday morning, he learned he had applied for the wrong kind of visa. He quickly reapplied, and, because of bad weather in New York, he planned to fly to Houston to take a roundabout route to Scotland. He was scheduled to arrive Wednesday, the day before the tournament started. At least he could get a look at the course.
He went to Houston but missed that Tuesday flight because his visa was still being processed.
“I got the reply, but that day [Tuesday] something happened with UPS in New York that the whole UPS shut down,” he said. “So the visa never left New York until late that day. I mean, I waited — I literally waited in a car in front of the consulate in Houston for seven hours, hoping for that visa to show up that day. It never did.”
Now, he was getting really nervous. But he was able to get his visa Wednesday morning, and got on a flight to Toronto, then Glasgow, Scotland, where he landed early Thursday morning, four hours before his tee time.
The good news: “I got my agents to give me a helicopter ride from Glasgow here. So it opened up for me to be here at least two hours before tee time, which at least two hours it gives a little time to kind of settle down and go play.”
The bad news: His clubs never made it.
His club sponsor was able to cobble together an emergency set, and Vegas had enough time to hit about 20 practice balls.
He did pretty well and was one over par through eight holes. But then he started to spray his driver and the round slipped away from him a bit. He wound up shooting a 76 on a very trying day.
“I gave it a try,” he said. “I wouldn't do it every single day. It's fun playing here. It's fun playing majors, fun playing the Open. This is my second one, so I wouldn't really miss it for anything.”
Taking it to the house
First-round leader Kevin Kisner might be sharing a house with hotshots Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Zach Johnson and others, but he’s not intimidated by that.
“They’re all great people,” he said. “That’s the best part about it. I mean, we’re out there playing soccer at night and hanging out. Everybody is just really chill, and it’s a lot of fun to be around those guys. There’s a lot of great players. It’s really cool what they have to say.”
He said they’re all pretty good athletes, including his pal, Spieth … “until he sends it over the goal four houses over, and we have to knock on the neighbor’s door for the soccer ball.”
Like old times
The first player off the tee Thursday was 60-year-old Sandy Lyle, who won the tournament in 1985 and whose exemption expires after this year. It’s his 43rd appearance in this major championship, and he had the honor of striking the first ball at 6:30 a.m.
“I was nervous last night, never mind this morning,” said Lyle, who was one under par at the turn but shot a 40 on the back, including bogeys on the last two holes to finish with a 75. “I woke up about 1 this morning with one eye on the alarm clock, thinking. Then your mind starts thinking about the opening shots and things.”
The turnout in the grandstands at the first tee was better than he expected.
“I was hoping to get away with maybe 20 people out there, and 15 of them have been probably part of my family,” he said. “Yeah, they were great. I think it was probably about 80% full on that first hole. Very good. Very impressed.”
England’s Matthew Southgate burst out of the gates strong, shooting his way onto the leaderboard with a 69. Then again, he considers this golf course his second home, having played it more than 50 times.
“I don’t think you can know the course any better than I do,” he said.
That said, he wasn’t blown away when he got here for this major championship.
“I think when I first arrived I was a little disappointed,” said Southgate, who tied for sixth at Royal Birkdale last year, his only other British Open. “I think I built it up too much in my mind from the age of 10.”
He said the check-in experience didn’t quite meet his expectations.
“For one thing, I have this sort of vision in my head that the little old Scottish fellow would meet me at the front gate and call you ‘Mr. Southgate,’ and you would feel all excited and stuff.”
“It was a young American girl, sort of flashy,” he said. “ ‘Let me show you around.’ And I thought, ‘I don’t really need showing around. I’ve been a member since I was 16.’ It kind of threw me a little bit.