Read Dominic Holland’s new book about The Open

It is the final day of The Open and storm clouds are gathering over Muirfield. Fighting his way into the elite field of millionaire golfers, billionaire financiers, frenzied journalists and pompous officials is Ricky Randal, a journeyman golfer who is out of his depth and about to drown…

Ricky Randal is the central character in Open Links, a novel written by comedian Dominic Holland (read our Q&A with the author here). This is an extract from the book, which is available now here. All authorial proceeds are passed on to The Anthony Nolan Trust, the charity that saves the lives of people with blood cancer.

It was no good. He gave up pretending to sleep and opened his eyes for good. He sighed, heavily. Everything felt wrong; or nothing felt right. He couldn’t decide. It felt like he hadn’t slept at all. Not a single wink – and this added to the acute sense of anxiety that had started yesterday afternoon. And not any ordinary anxiety or nerves; that much he was used to. This was something else. Something he hadn’t experienced before. It felt untoward and unsettling.

The fear of the unknown; don’t they say that’s the worst fear of all? And if so, then why should he feel normal, on a day like today?

It was just after 4.30am, half an hour before his alarm was scheduled to wake him. His tiredness aside, nothing felt normal or safe. Unique circumstances, he reminded himself again, quite possibly the most important day of his life. And in all likelihood, today was a one-off, never to be repeated… so shouldn’t he just relax and try to enjoy it?

That made him laugh.

Gently, he pressed his thumbs onto his sore and swollen eyes. Flat on his back, he opened his heavy eyelids, focused on the brilliant white ceiling with its cheap artex swirls, and tried to reassure himself that everything was fine – but it was no use. He couldn’t explain it, but something had changed. Something had happened, but he didn’t know what, and it made him feel vulnerable and afraid.

‘Come on, Ricky. What the ****, man, snap out of it.’

Today was supposed to be special; the day he’d dreamed of for years and worked so hard to achieve.

He splashed cold water on his face in the plastic ensuite bathroom and tried to reason with himself. Of course, his circumstances were extreme. Of course, his senses would be heightened. Today was never going to be just another ordinary day at work. Apart from anything else, it was Sunday, the day of our Lord – and how Richard Randal needed a God now. Any God would do.

And if not a deity, then at least his bloody dad.

His hotel room was located in the eaves of the modern ugly building, at the mercy of the brilliant dawn sun; its first rays easily breaching the gap between the flimsy blinds and the edge of the roof-pitched window. Laser beams, he thought, prodding, and poking away at him; ironic that they should be called blinds.

Not that he could sleep, anyway.

Ricky peered at his frightened reflection in the mirror above a sink that was really too small to shave in – a handy excuse not to bother, perhaps?

Read Dominic Holland's new novel about The Open Championship

The horrors of yesterday’s experiences at work flooded his mind and made him wince; like a rogue piece of tin foil connecting with a tooth filling. It had been an utter humiliation. Little wonder he hadn’t slept.

He checked his phone, hoping for a message that might explain everything but there was, of course, no such enlightenment. Just one voicemail from his wife Maggie, reiterating what they’d already discussed and agreed on; that what happened yesterday was in the past, that it could not be changed and so he needed to just put it behind him, move on, and try to relax.

It was pretty thin stuff and hardly inspiring, but he was glad to have it all the same. He listened to it again.

Hey Rick, it’s me, love. Just to say that I love you and I’m really proud of you – and what happened yesterday was not your fault, not really – and I’m still so proud of you, and so are the boys.

Her message was kindly, but it was fatally undermined by not really and still. He appreciated it anyway, especially given that there was no message from his work colleague, Patrick – no doubt still smarting also from yesterday’s unusual events.

Ricky pinched the bridge of his nose as the painful memory stabbed him once again. He’d gone over it in his mind, over and over, trying to understand what had happened but he still couldn’t explain it. It just made no sense.

No matter, he told himself – he was a professional and so was Patrick, and today at work they would just have to get on with their jobs.

But then, recalling Patrick’s last words to him, he blanched and almost had to sit down. He thought for a second but quickly dismissed his fears. There was no way. What Patrick had said was in the heat of the moment and he hadn’t meant it. Absolutely not. And besides, today was a big day for him too. He wouldn’t miss it for the world. No question.

Good Lord. He better hadn’t.

Ricky looked at his watch; two hours exactly until his shift started. His work wasn’t really a shift – but it was certainly a grind. Sitting on the toilet now, he slapped both his thighs hard – over and over.

Read Dominic Holland's new novel about The Open Championship

‘Come on, Ricky, you can do this. You can do this. It’s just another day. It’s what I do. It’s what I’ve always done and what I do brilliantly. I don’t do anything else as well as I do this. So, what’s to worry about?’ He was shouting now. ‘Nothing. Nothing. There’s nothing to worry about, Rick. Just get out there. Get it done and enjoy it.’

But his pep talk had a hollow echo. The words were ne, and they made some sense, but he needed to hear them from someone else – and someone he trusted. Ideally from his dad, if only the old bastard had hung around long enough. And this terrible feeling he had, that made him feel so completely impotent? What the hell was happening to him?

Ricky squeezed his eyes shut again and massaged his temples this time, pressing hard into his skull as another wave of anxiousness enveloped him. His breathing was turning shallow, and he wondered if he wasn’t about to have a full-blown panic attack. He’d heard of such things and how debilitating they could be, but he clenched his fists and raised his knees and thankfully it passed. But everything was cumulative, and it all added to this feeling of helplessness.

Even his unsuccessful bowel movement was a concern. He’d managed a couple of hard pebbles which were fooling no one. Acting like a cork and a warning of what was lurking within. A full bowel waiting to be evacuated, and no doubt biding its time – something else to think about, then.

Read Dominic Holland's new novel about The Open Championship

And yesterday was his fault as well. Sure, Patrick bore some responsibility; but ultimately, it was his name on the office door. In his line of work, Ricky owned the glory and the failure. He had lost count of the people he’d met, envious of the way he made his living. But people had no idea.

Living – that was a bloody laugh. His income had been barely sufficient in his 20s and now, two decades on, he was still at it, earning even less but with a family to support. Maggie, two boys and one more on the way.

What the hell were they thinking? Going for the girl, Maggie called it. Heading for a cliff, he preferred.

He left the motel and instinctively scanned the sky to assess the day’s weather ahead, sniffing at the air, trying to get a feel. He’d already checked the forecast. A bright day with a swirling and gathering breeze later – little or no chance of rain.

At just after 5am, he had the adjoining motorway service facilities all to himself. Inside was a lone cleaner with a mop in hand and a large expanse of floor – a task with parallels to his own, Ricky thought.

The man was old to be a cleaner and he looked exhausted; hopefully he was ending his shift and not starting it. Dressed in green overalls, he looked up at his visitor and a quiet moment passed between them. The old man smiled kindly, making Ricky feel a little guilty. He smiled back as best as he could.

Now, at least, he was mostly awake and mindful to dwell on only positive thoughts. Today is going to be a fucking great day, he assured himself and then he yawned like a lion.

He loathed the self-help guru that his colleagues seemed to use so effectively. Self-help; the new American science. The legitimate performance-enhancing drug, the ability to access one’s inner goldmine for untold fame and riches. Endless positive bullshit. Ricky grimaced, having reasoned a long time ago that a battery with only positive terminals is entirely useless.

He checked his kit, making sure that everything was present and then slammed his trunk shut. He was growing a little angry now, the more he thought about it. No doubt Patrick would be hurting as well – but what he had done was outrageous. The sooner they cleared the air, the better.

As he slipped into the driver’s seat, he ceded some power and placed a call; it went straight to voicemail and his anxiety heightened further. Surely Patrick was up by now – and if so, why hadn’t he switched on his bloody phone?

He squeezed at his steering wheel as the ghastly thought recurred.

Read Dominic Holland's new novel about The Open Championship

It was about a ten-mile drive to work but at this early hour, the roads hadn’t yet choked up with the inevitable traffic. Of course, there was accommodation much closer to the office, but it wasn’t for employees on his pay grade. At a push he could even have stayed at home – which he had considered but decided against. For this line of work, he needed to stick to his routine.

Ricky viewed one of the many cranes a way off in the distance and immediately felt another dollop of adrenaline drip into his bloodstream. There was some movement below now as well; another warning sign of what lay ahead. It was a horrible reality, feeling nervous on your way to work. Stupid bloody job.

It wasn’t fair to regard himself as being on a different pay grade, either. His ‘stupid’ job was actually entirely meritocratic. No nepotism or old school networks at work. No famous offspring miraculously prevailing. His was a numbers game. A pure results business, and technically, he earned the same as everyone else. Or, at least, he had the opportunity of doing so – and something to shoot for, then.

Ricky drove in through the gates. A man in an orange high vis stood sentry and another man pointed to where he could park. The first available space was hidden by a muscular black BMW X6, which was lacking only a turret. On the other side was a shimmering grey Aston Martin with a private number plate that was probably as valuable as the car.

He eased his Astra estate between the two, like a piece of dirty grout separating hand-cut marble tiles. He cranked on his handbrake and got out, carefully.

So much for his hope that this feeling of dread would recede once he got to work. He felt utterly lost and wanted to jump back into his car and drive home; Maggie would understand.

He laughed – no, she bloody well wouldn’t. She’d be furious, and rightly so, and quickly he thought of his dad again, and what he would be expecting from his son today.

‘**** sake, Ricky, get a grip, man. Get a ******* grip. Just another day. And whatever happens; tomorrow will be Monday. The world will go on. And so will you…’

But who was he kidding? Today was not a normal day at all. Today was the third Sunday of July. The final day of the Open Championship. The world’s oldest and most prestigious golf tournament. Ricky’s first ever Open. His first major championship and in fact, his first event on the main tour in more than eight years.

He needed to hurry now. He slung his clubs over his shoulder, still no sign of Patrick, his caddie. And Ricky was the first match out this morning, teeing off at 7am.

Thirteen over par and in 72nd place. Or flat last. Just an ordinary day, then…

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