Where's HBO when you need it?
By Brian Murphy
Special to Page 2

Forgive me, dweller.

I come to you, Cooler over my shoulder, bereft of takes on the American sporting weekend.

See, it's British Open week. And I flew from California to England on Saturday. And then I endured the trip from Heathrow Airport to Sandwich, England -- site of Royal St. George's golf course, the Open course -- via a route specifically designed by my travel agent, Beelzebub, and arrived in town bleary-eyed and clueless about my native land's sports news.

Sex and the City
While the rest of the world watches "Sex and the City" it's yard sales for The Cooler.
And then I propped up The Cooler in my rented home near the golf course, only to find four channels on my TV for the week. Our landlord does not get SkyTV, which offers a million channels. She gets basic cable, which is four channels.

Four. Cuatro. Quattro. Four channels, dwellers.

When I wanted to know if the Giants-D'Backs series was going as planned, I instead found a BBC channel showing a local motorcycle race. When I wanted to know who won the Greater Milwaukee Open, I instead found a BBC channel touting the merits of a yard sale.

I'm not kidding.

It was, like, a garden sale or something. And it was BBC.

And all I could think was: Hey, I'm not some jingoistic American guy or anything, but sometimes, when you flip on your TV, you want the options of 576 channels, including HBO, HBO Pacific, HBO Pacific Northwest, HBO Family, HBO Whatever. Like, 50 HBOs. So, in essence, HBO outnumbers British TV channels, 50 to 4.

The newspaper offered no balm. There were huge stories about Chelsea picking up Juan Veron, and huge stories about England beating South Africa in cricket --- but nary a boxscore to be found.

Worse, we were unable to access the Internet for a day.

The horror, dweller.

The horror.

When I did finally sign on Sunday night, I saw that Kobe Bryant apparently has some legal issues to deal with, and that Dontrelle Willis won his ninth game. Dontrelle -- what a story. And here, in England, his story appears all that much more American. There's nobody in England named Dontrelle. The British Open is not being played at Royal St. Dontrelle's. All of which is by way of saying, God bless Dontrelle Willis, bearer of American baseball pride.

Outside of that, The Cooler is States-deprived of sports news. On then, to a unique Weekend List of Five:

1. The Big Easy: the big story
Since we're in England for the golf, how about that Ernie Els going coast-to-coast, wire-to-wire at the Scottish Open? The defending British Open champ wins his fifth tournament this year (three in Europe, two in America) and struts into the Open with a bit of cock to his walk.

Ernie Els
With WWE smacktalk, Ernie is ready for Tiger.
A report in Golf Monthly has quoted Ernie as saying he's fully ready to take on Tiger in all the majors for the coming years, and he even said: "It's time for me to look Tiger in the eye and say: 'Let's get it on.'"

Yes! Ernie Els, channeling Marvin Gaye!

The Cooler is delighted to hear the news, and thinks every time Ernie Els now enters a press tent for an interview, or appears on the first tee at a major, an unseen boom box should blast out:

    Wah, wah, wah!
    I've beeeeeen reall-lly trrrrryiiiin' baby/
    Tryin' to hold on the feelin' for so long/
    But if you feel/
    Liiiiike I feel/
    Let's get it on

Could change the face of golf, you know. Marvin Gaye is a powerful thing.

2. Lance: the king
Another benefit of logging on late Sunday night -- the sight of Lance Armstrong pulling on the yellow jersey.

It was my boy T.C. who suggested, when Tiger Woods was flirting with a missed cut at the 2001 U.S. Open: "A Sunday at the Open without Tiger's red shirt? Is that not like the Tour de France without a yellow jersey?"

True enough. The sight of Armstrong pulling on yellow could produce a music moment to supersede the Els/Gaye duo from above. We can only imagine, at The Cooler, Armstrong tugging on the jersey as an unseen boom box plays Donovan's "Mellow Yellow," or plays Coldplay's "Yellow" or the Beatles' "Yellow Submarine."

They call me Mel-low Yell-low ...

By the way, the Tour de France is over.

Finito, baby.

3. A musing on the nature of human empathy
Have to pause here for a non-sports question: Do you, dweller, believe that full and total empathy is an achievable thing for the generally self-concerned human being?

As of press time The Cooler was still stuck in traffic.
I ask because my boy Billy Nick and I made a drive from Heathrow airport to the town of Sandwich that can only be described as The Single Worst Day in the History of Man.

Our rented rig was motoring along the M25 from the London area to the southeast of England at 8:30 a.m. when ... we ... came ... to ... a ... dead ... stop.

I mean, total inertia.

Minutes turned into a half-hour. Half-hour turned into an hour. We inched along.

BBC radio was kind enough to inform us that a six-car accident had occurred when a lorrie jacknifed. After an hour of moving about one-tenth of a mile, we got good and damn sick about hearing about the "lorrie." The Ugly American in us raged, and we wondered: Can you call it a damn truck, please? The only Lorrie who can help us now would be if Susan Dey as Laurie Partridge appeared in our car to give us neck massages.

Anyway, what ensued was a total shut-down of the motorway, forcing thousands of cars off the motorway on to country roads. Billy Nick and I raged as we inched off the motorway and, glancing at the shut-down road, saw an entirely empty motorway stretching for miles. We figured it had to be a ruse, and that the only way the British government could shut down a 10-mile stretch of motorway was if bin Laden himself had been seen streaking on the road, wearing a rainbow Afro wig.

I won't bore you with the rest of the details, but suffice it to say after four stops at gas stations -- excuse me, petrol stations -- and four times being refused the use of a phone or a working ATM, what you had was two guys reliving Michael Douglas' meltdown in "Falling Down."

Ultimately, it was a 130-mile trip that took SEVEN HOURS. Seven hours, dweller. 130 miles.

And here's the thing: Billy Nick and I, in our many moments of long pauses, and with steam slowly trickling from our ears, wondered aloud to each other: Will anybody fully understand our pain? Will anybody listen to our tale of woe, and ache along with us? Or will they, as we surmised they would, pay us only lip service upon hearing our tale, and seeing our tired faces and say, like our third roomie Shuchie basically said: "Oh, hey, that's a bummer, man. Now, hurry up and shower, dude, we've got to hit the town."

We wondered about the nature of empathy. Can humans truly empathize? Or do they, for the most part, just want somebody to finish their damn story so they can get back to worrying about themselves?

This may be a question better suited for a religious retreat. Although I fear that even a Catholic priest would be checking his watch as me or Billy Nick tried to explain what seven hours in the English countryside feels like in a rented rig, using your left hand on the gear shift.

4. The comedy of the seven-hour commute
There were benefits to this, of course. A sick brand of humor began to emerge in the car, full of hatred for any car on the other side of the road that moved freely, or for the many pedestrians and cyclists who breezed past us as if they were Carl Lewis at the '84 Games. Especially infuriating were the half-hour BBC radio reports, recycling the same news from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. So it was that we heard, nearly a dozen times, that a man named Richard Johnson was questionable for a big cricket match or rugby match because of a groin muscle injury.

By noon, when we heard about Dick Johnson's plight for the 11th time on a radio update, Billy Nick snapped: "Tell that big cherry Richard Johnson to freaking play! Tell that big wuss to sack up and get on the damn pitch!"

I joined in, hectoring the radio about Dick Johnson's inability to handle pain: "That guy's been dogging it for years! It's always something with that cat! The next time that guy shows any kind of hair will be the first!"

Poor Richard Johnson. The victim of radio road rage.

5. Ground floor of a dream
And what do American sportswriters do when they fly early to the British Open?

Try to play as much free golf as possible.

British Open
Everything stops for the British Open, even holes 1 and 14.
Sadly, we played the role of rubes and actually paid to play a round on a seaside links called Romney Warren on Sunday, a move made more rubish when the starter handed me a photocopied, handwritten list of numbers that read ""Order of Play'' and followed with the numbers: 15, 16, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 2, 17, 18.

"What's this?" I said.

"The order of your holes today," he said.

Had my Frosted Flakes been dusted with peyote? He wasn't wearing a big hat, but I felt I had gone through the looking glass. "Um, order of play?" I said. "Isn't it, like, one through 18?"

"Not today," he said, pointing to rows of nattily-clad golfers pounding balls on a makeshift range. "Open qualifying is on the adjoining course, and we've turned holes 1 and 14 into a driving range for them. That accounts for the discount in your greens fee."

I had paid 18 pounds. On a sign above him it read: "Daily Greens Fee: 19 pounds."

Such a deal.

Anyway, the cynicism faded when we watched the boys hitting balls before they tried to qualify for golf's oldest prize. "Boys," Shuchie said, a tear in his eye, "every man on that range has a dream."

I wasn't quite sure I could see the blonde mane, but somewhere on that range was a spiritual descendent of Michael McKean's David St. Hubbins in "Spinal Tap," who, in the final scenes, asked what he would do if he were not a rock star, answered quickly and simply: "I'd be a fulltime dreamer."

Later, when I skull-shanked a wild screaming shot from our fairway towards theirs, my plaintive wail of "Fore!" must have shaken them.

"Dude," Shuchie said, "one of the dreamers turned his head like he was pissed."

To top it off, our boy Billy Nick's new golf shoes gouged a Grand Canyon-like piece of flesh out of his heel, and he had to play the final two holes barefoot, a la Ty Webb in "Caddyshack," or an Indian communing with Nature.

It had a peaceful look, a barefoot man strolling a seaside links on a bright, sunny afternoon, golf bag over his shoulder. Why, take away the double bogeys ... and he looked like a man with a dream.

Now, the British Open, dweller. Will report back next week. And if you see that wuss Dick Johnson -- tell him we're on to him.

Brian Murphy of the San Francisco Chronicle writes the "Weekend Water Cooler" every Monday for Page 2.



Brian Murphy Archive

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Murphy: Going, going ... boring

Murphy: Raising a Tiger

Murphy: Fandemonium

Murphy: Life imitating art

Murphy: Masters of our domain

Murphy: Somebody has to lose

Murphy: Welcome to Cooler Day!

Murphy: Spring is in the air

Murphy: Here's to Ew

Murphy: A barren wasteland

Murphy: Tiger gets his Phil

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