July 20, 2013 at 1:00 am

Jerry Green

Winnie, Pooh and other British Open souvenirs

Tom Watson celebrates after winning the British Open in Scotland in 1982. (Bob Martin/Getty Images)

The very English squire pointed across the expansive fields behind his handsome stone cottage.

“See there,” he told the Yank. “During the war there were two guns out there, pointing across the Channel.

"We called them Winnie and Pooh.”

Straight from the children's fantasy stories — “Winnie The Pooh.”

But World War II — and England’s danger — was never any sort of fantasy.

This was 1981, and it was my first time covering the venerable British Open.

The golf was being played at Royal St. George's in Sandwich, near Dover. The links were located on the shore of the English Channel. You could see across to France from atop of The White Cliffs of Dover.

When Winnie and Pooh were aimed across the Channel in 1940, 1941, 1942 and 1943 and still in 1944, France was occupied by Nazi Germany’s Wehrmacht. The British deemed in 1940, after the surrender of France, an invasion might be imminent. The coastline had to be protected — by Winnie and Pooh and assorted other armaments. If the Germans did storm Britain, the weapons would have been the first line of defense.

Indeed, there was an old, brick-encircled gun emplacement in the middle of the fairway on one of the holes at Royal St. George's Golf Club.

Never did I expect to be hosted in digs owned by a member of the English gentry. His main dodge was as a gourmet chef in a posh London restaurant. But he operated a bread and breakfast establishment as a moonlighting venture.

Rooms were scarce around Sandwich for the visiting sports journalists assigned to cover The Open Championship, as the Brits call it. And I found a room in the lovely stone cottage with a gorgeous and historic view.

And I did fancy World War II history. Golf history, too.

The Open Championship is a wonderful event but painstaking to cover. It’s difficult to reach the golf course on the narrow roads. And a visiting Yank must remember that in Britain, the folks drive on the left half of the road.

British golf courses, if you've been watching the current coverage on the telly, are lined with deep gorse — tough growth with the consistency of barbed wire.

And it was there that Jack Nicklaus put his very first shot on the first round at Royal St. George's. Plop, a drive right into the weedy stuff.

Jack, of course, was the top target for all the vagabond Yank sports journalists those 32 years ago. He had won The Open Championship three times and was among the favorites again. We trooped after him for a while. He was having a miserable time in the miserable, gray weather.

At last Nicklaus finished.

He shot an 83.

Now, Nicklaus was one of the most accessible top athletes ever for the sporting press. He answered every question, some outrageous.

But not on this day. You could see the crimson on his face — Ohio State red. He was ticked.

Jack Nicklaus never shoots 83.

Hardly ever, anyway.

He stood there near the 18th green in full sizzle, awaiting his car.

A bunch of us, a half dozen or so, approached him, rather timidly.

"Not today, guys," Jack said, shooing us away. "No interviews."

We collected about 20 yards away and just watched him suffering and embarrassed. We stared for three, perhaps four minutes.

And Jack watched us.

"Oh, c'mon," Nicklaus uttered at last. He waved us over.

"I'll talk to you. What do you want to ask me?"

And Jack Nicklaus became enchanting and gracious in his embarrassment. He explained everything that had gone wrong. And he essentially apologized for disappointing the American contingent with his 83.

Next day, Jack Nicklaus shot a 66 in the second round. He made the cut.

American journeyman Bill Rogers won that Open Championship It remains Rogers' lone victory in a major golf tournament.

But Nicklaus, for me, was the compelling story — Jack and Winnie and Pooh.

Memories linger three decades later.

Royal pains for some

The next year, The Open Championship was played at the Royal Troon Golf Club in Scotland.

Royal Troon was a typical Scottish links course. Straight, narrow, brownish, plenty of gorse alongside the Firth of Clyde, which flowed into the Irish Sea. It possessed one of the world's most famous golfing holes — The Postage Stamp, a par-3. The golfers aimed for a square green — the grass had turned brown — 123 yards away.

Troon was near Glasgow. It was also near the Brig o' Doon — a tiny footbridge made famous by the poet Robert Burns. Loch Lomond was a short ride away.

It was cloudy, chilly, and the fog rolled off the Firth of Clyde those July days in 1982. There remains a vision of Arnold Palmer hitting off the fairway, adorned in a red Scottish tartan cap. He was being trailed as always, by Arnie's Army — Scottish corps.

That was The Open Championship another American journeyman golfer unexpectedly led after the first round.

This was Bobby Clampett, a curly-haired Californian who had never made any impression on the PGA Tour in the United States. To compensate for his lack of success in America, Clampett opted to dress in ancient golf style.

He showed up wearing knickers at Royal Troon.

And when we Yanks asked Clampett to expain why he wore old-fashioned knickers there were titters of mirth throughout the hallowed media tent.

What we call knickers, the very proper British don't. Pants that fold at the knees are known as plus-fours in Britain.

Knickers, in British English, happen to be ladies' bloomers.

All very British humour, it was.

Clampett not only led after the first round with a 67, he led after the second with a 66. He had a five-shot lead. Wearing knickers again, he quickly increased his lead to seven shots in Saturday's third round.

Then he was struck by the realities of golf, from duffer to pro. The sport seizes you and puts chokehold on you. At Troon's No. 6 on the third round, he hit his tee shot into a pot bunker. It was round and deep sand. Clampett needed three swings to get the ball out of bunker. That day he shot a 77.

Clampett had so dominated the first two rounds he still led by a stroke entering the fourth round. But the fairy tale was doomed. Clampett finished with a 78, and a tie for 10th place.

That Sunday at Royal Troon, the top pros took over. And Tom Watson emerged the winner by a single stroke over Peter Oosterhuis and Nick Price.

Tommy grinned. He had shot a 70.

In his element

A golf marksman from Kansas City, Watson pretty much owned golf in Scotland back then. This was his fifth victory in the Open Championships — the first four were won on Scottish links, the fifth in England.

Well, that summer of '82, Watson pretty much owned golf in America, too. A month earlier he won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in California. That was when he took the lead with a historic chip shot — plunk into the hole from the rough — on No. 17.

I know quite well Watson grinned that Sunday at Royal Troon 31 years ago because I managed to sneak (yes, I did sneak) across the ropes into the awards area. Some dour Scotsman from the Royal & Ancient was presenting the Claret Jug to Watson. In the midst of his presentation the gentleman spotted the intruder.

"What are you doing here?" said the Scot, not very kindly. "We don't want you here."

I took a strategic retreat — four steps or so.

And nowadays as I watch, affixed, to The Open Championship from Muirfield on my telly, there are images of another tournament and Jack Nicklaus burning after his 83 — and of Winnie and Pooh across the field.

Ah well, precious memories are souvenirs from life.

Jerry Green is a retired Detroit News sportswriter. Read his web-exclusive column Sundays at detroitnews.com.

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