There is something uniquely British about the tennis at Wimbledon. Where else do you still see players playing in “all whites” and on grass courts to wildly enthusiastically patrons, who nostalgically talk as much in the past as the present, while sipping their Pimm’s and eating their strawberries and cream.
The British do nostalgia brilliantly. They are a great sporting nation and are past masters at presenting great sporting events.
From a historical standpoint, tournaments and venues like Wimbledon, the cricket at Lord’s, the golf from St Andrew’s and even the Boat Race on the Thames are unmatched anywhere in the world. They are the full package of time, tradition, status and respect.
This year, Northern Ireland, for too long the conveniently forgotten member of the United Kingdom, gets its chance to put its best foot forward with the Open Championship.
A sold-out tournament for the very first time in its history, already gives you an understanding perhaps of a community starved of such an opportunity for too long.
The omens are already good and hopefully the Gods will now deliver the perfect script. Either way, for many who never thought that they would see this day, this is an ‘I was there’ moment, with an Irish twist, as the goodwill and craic element should make this a tournament to remember.
For Rory McIlroy, who has based his entire season this year around two events, the US Masters and this week’s Open, he once again carries the weight of his proud nation on his broad shoulders.
The expectation couldn’t be any higher. Maligned for missing the recent Irish Open, that story carries no relevance any longer. It is all now about the Open Championship.
It is the greatest prize in golf and nothing may ever give him as much satisfaction as winning it this week, in front of his own.
The odds of him achieving just that must surely be stacked against him.
The star attraction in a cauldron of busy well-wishers, where the media are watching and wanting to discuss his every feeling, McIlroy, this week, will be distracted out of his mind.
Surely now he must know exactly what it is like to live in Tiger Woods’ shoes, every time he tees it up.
His opening round will tell us everything we need to know about how comfortable he is out there in this unique environment.
A strong opening score that puts him in or around the leading group bodes well for his chances as McIlroy, historically, is much stronger over the final 54 holes.
Anything less most probably means his role may just be limited to part player, part ambassador, a scenario which you feel is totally unacceptable for a man who is only judged by his major championship successes.
On the other side of the scale, it is wonderful to see James Sugrue, the British Amateur Champion, getting his chance to play with the big boys this week.
No stranger to playing at the highest levels of the amateur game, Sugrue will be very familiar with Royal Portrush from his years participating in the North of Ireland Championship but that’s where any semblance of familiarity stops.
For the first time in his young career, his mind will be overwhelmed by the flurry of activity that follows major golf tournaments, especially one on home soil. No doubt inundated by well-wishers and visits to the media centre, he is probably already longing for the tournament to start.
Calm by nature, in moments like this it is easy to be distracted by the giddy expectation of family and friends. Even timing his arrival to the course can be unnerving.
Coping effectively with a week like this requires not only experience but great patience. He will be thankful for a semblance of normality once the tournament begins today but even then, nothing can prepare him fully for that first walk up through a jubilant gallery onto the first tee box, the undoubted nerves that will accompany his opening shot or indeed, a golf course that mentally will have changed radically from the practice rounds.
This week’s experience and how he copes with the pressures of playing with a childhood hero in the biggest golf tournament in the world are all essential ingredients for his future growth in the game.
Mentally, coping with expectation and adversity are everyday tools he will require to bring his game to the next level.
No one should expect that he is ready, nor should he be at this point, to compete with the very best at the top of their own game.
But he should still have a steely determination and expectation about his play.
It is too easy to say that you hope that he can embrace this special moment but in a world that may offer so very few of these opportunities, let’s hope he can play with a smile on his face and come off the course this week satisfied with his own performance.
Anything more would be a most welcome bonus.