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At The British Open, Weather Is Part Of The Challenge

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And now we have the weather, or at least a story about the weather, which is a big deal if you're following this week's British Open, one of the four major tournaments in golf. On a seaside course, of the sort that they use in Britain for the British Open, the weather is always a factor. NPR's Tom Goldman reports on a British Open where the weather seemed like the only factor.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Fifteen years later, American golfer Duffy Waldorf still remembers how beautiful it was when he showed up for his third round of the 2002 British Open.

DUFFY WALDORF: No wind, blue skies.

GOLDMAN: He had lunch, hit a few putts. But then...

WALDORF: When I got to the range, the skies got a little cloudy, and the wind picked up.

(SOUNDBITE OF WIND BLOWING)

GOLDMAN: This is sound of the wind that day from an ABC telecast at famed Muirfield Golf Course in Scotland. The wind preceded an ominous gray wall of cloud and rain heading inland. Another American, Scott Verplank, was on the course. He says the wall hit like a freight train.

SCOTT VERPLANK: I remember getting my rain suit on real fast and getting the umbrella out. And the umbrella lasted about 30 seconds (laughter).

GOLDMAN: Verplank estimates for the next two to three hours, Muirfield was engulfed by what he calls a blizzard without snow. Golf is a precision sport, but it was hard to be precise battling, in Waldorf's words, the trifecta of horrible conditions - wind, rain, cold. His nadir came on the seventh tee when he hit a horrible drive.

WALDORF: I had literally - I hit it, like, 30 yards into, like, some bush.

GOLDMAN: He hit a second drive, equally horrible.

WALDORF: And all I remember is walking off the tee going, let's go find the first ball (laughter).

GOLDMAN: Waldorf began the round tied for the lead. But his 77 that day put him five shots behind, and he never recovered. Small consolation, perhaps - Tiger Woods, in 2002 the world's best player, shot a then-career-worst 81 and tumbled down the leaderboard. The storm of 2002 was unique in its intensity. But golf's current best players know British Open weather can strike at any moment.

The forecast for tomorrow's first round at Royal Birkdale on England's northwest coast predicts some rain, some sun. But players will be ready in case a freight train comes rumbling in again. Tom Goldman, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HAVE YOU EVER SEEN THE RAIN?")

CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL: (Singing) I want to know, have you ever seen rain? I want to know, have you ever seen rain comin' down... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.