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  • Alistair Tait

When cricket came to The Open

The Guardian sports desk suddenly took greater interest in Final Qualifying for the 2003 Open Championship than they had in previous years.

That’s what happens when a cricket legend gets involved in golf.

The word count for the original Open Qualifying round one story on Sunday 13 July 2003 was 400 words. It jumped to 650 when former England wicket keeper Bob Taylor stepped into the picture. He suddenly became the story, even though 1991 Masters champion and former world number one Ian Woosnam was trying to qualify at Prince’s Golf Club.

Simon Wakefield (pictured) shot a course record 61, 10-under-par, at North Foreland Golf Club and there was a buzz in the main press centre at Royal St George’s, where the Open Championship was supposed to take place this week before coronavirus wrecked our world. Wakefield’s uncle, cricket legend Taylor, had caddied for him. We had proof. The press officer at North Foreland had filed a report saying exactly that, with quotes from Wakefield.

Woosie suddenly got demoted to the bottom of the story for a splash on Taylor, who sadly died recently. The Guardian sports desk wanted Uncle Bob to be the main focus of the piece.

I got the quote sheet the press officer at North Foreland had filed. Wakefield was reported to have said:

"I'd better say it was all down to him (Taylor) or he'll probably clip me about the ear."

I wasn’t the only one writing the cricket legend helps nephew try to qualify for The Open story. Everyone was piling in.

As I started to write, two obvious questions came to me: why hadn’t Wakefield's regular caddie, Roy Robinson, caddied for him, and was Uncle Bob going to caddie in the Open proper? I rang former European Tour player turned manager Stuart Cage, who looked after Wakefield.

“Nice round by Wakie today,” I began. “Tell me, is Uncle Bob going to caddie at St George’s assuming he makes it through tomorrow?”

The former Walker Cup player and English Amateur champion was taken off guard.

“Why would his uncle caddie for him this week?” Cage asked.
“Because he caddied for him today at North Foreland,” I countered.
“No he didn’t.”

I read Wakefield’s quote to Cage to prove his uncle had, indeed, caddied for him. Cage told me he’d watched every one of Simon’s shots that day, and that Robinson had been on the bag.

When I pressed Cage on the issue, he put Wakefield on the phone. They were staying in the same house that week. Wakefield was as surprised as Cage was.

"I have no idea where my Uncle Bob was, but he certainly wasn't with me today," Wakefield said. "He's never caddied for me, has never shown any interest in caddying for me, and I wouldn't ask him anyway because he is much too busy. He only plays golf once in a blue moon anyway, so I would hardly ask him to caddie for me in the biggest tournament of the year."

I asked Wakefield where the story and the quotes came from. He said:

“At the end of the interview I jokingly said to the press officer: ‘You better mention my uncle Bob. He always seems to get a mention when I play well.'”

I rang the Guardian. They asked me to file a story on the fake news. I then ran around the press room telling colleagues to stop writing. Mark Garrod, the Press Association’s excellent golf writer, had just filed a cricket legend helps nephew to course record story to his desk. Garrod rang his desk to tell them to kill the story before it went out to the wider world.

It was a case of actual fake news long before that term started being applied to stories that weren’t actually fake.

Wakefield did qualify for St George’s, but he opened with an 82, added a 74 and missed the cut comfortably. Maybe he’d have played better if Uncle Bob had caddied for him in the championship.

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