TOM Watson is not the only Open legend for whom this year’s 144th staging at St Andrews will be a poignant final bow.
Peter Alliss may be the Voice of Golf, but the undisputed voice of the first tee is official starter Ivor Robson and on Sunday the Scot will, literally, call time on his 41-year career.
The man from Moffat in Dumfriesshire has become a cult figure, with his signature singsong cadence announcing every competitor at the start of their 18-hole odyssey around the championship linksland. At 6.32am today the words “On the tee from Denmark…Thomas Bjorn” will ring out to signal the start of the quest to determine golf’s latest major champion. That will be the first of 52 matches Robson sends off every 11 minutes until his work for the day is done at around 4.15pm.
As starter he has other duties beyond announcing, with responsibility for checking the size of the player’s golf ball is legal and the number of clubs in his bag. He has saved players from penalties by highlighting an overpacked bag but also has the power to punish – two strokes for a late arrival, disqualification for a delay of over five minutes. He is fastidious about correct pronunciation and takes even the most exotic consonant-laden foreign surnames in his stride.
After a decade as a Scottish pro tour player, he became the starter for the European Tour and got his first Open gig at Royal Lytham & St Annes in 1974, when Gary Player won his third title. Taking up these long vigils carried with it a sense of irony, as Robson had a bit of a phobia about striking these opening blows during his pro career. As he explained in an interview with Sports Illustrated: “Once I was out on the course playing, I was fine. But I absolutely lived in fear of the first tee. I hated having my name announced. I’d get to shaking so bad with nerves that I finally had to give it up altogether. Now I’m doing the very thing that killed me.”
Future first tees just won’t feel the same when Robson heads into the St Andrews sunset, but there are four more days to enjoy those dulcet tones that have woven their way into the rich tapestry of Open week.
At his valedictory pre-tournament press conference yesterday, Tom Watson took time to pay tribute to the man who will announce his name for the last time at an Open Championship.
“The finality of the end is here,” said Watson. “But what tempers that very much are the memories and the people I’ve met along the way… Peter Dawson [the outgoing R&A chief executive] and Ivor Robson who was at the Champions Dinner and was celebrated last night.”
Whatever the result, Watson’s Open is set for an emotional end, but many will also dearly miss the man who sends him on his way.