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Lawtonian Gene ‘Coach’ Waits stands on the famed Swilcan Bridge at the birthplace of golf, St. Andrew’s, during one of his 11 trips to watch the British Open. Waits has become such an expert that he makes his own travel plans these days.

Waits has become vet British Open fan

A 1953 radio broadcast lit a fire under Gene 'Coach' Waits.

The old coach/insurance agent, then a high school student, was caddying in his hometown of Hereford, Texas. Loudspeakers were set up around the course so the golfers could listen as Ben Hogan marched to The Open Championship at Carnoustie Golf Links in Angus, Scotland.

"It was about 12:30 and we were coming down the No. 9 fairway," Waits recalled. "They had loudspeakers set up all around so you could kind of keep up with the British Open.

"I remember the excitement about Ben Hogan winning it. I thought to myself, like so many kids do when they're young: I'm gonna go there when I get big."

And he has.

Waits has attended The Open on 11 occasions. The first was at Muirfield in 2002, when Ernie Els took the title. No. 11 came last month at St. Andrews when he watched Zach Johnson defeat Louis Oosthuizen and Mark Leishman in a playoff to win the 144th Open.

"I have a picture standing on the Swilcan Bridge and one at the starter's table at the No. 1 tee at St. Andrews," Waits said.

"It's really nice. I get fired up about it."

It was Waits' third trip to The Home of Golf. He also has been to Royal Liverpool, Royal Lytham and St. Anne's, Royal St. Georges, Turnberry, Royal Birkdale, Carnoustie and Royal Troon.

His wife, Anna, has accompanied Waits on several trips. Daughter Traci and her husband, Jack Hanna, and son Barton Scott and his wife also have been guests.

Traci and Jack attended the '14 Open while Coach recuperated from an infection caused by a cat bite. He was hospitalized for two weeks.

A favorite moment came at Muirfield in 2013.

"I was in the stands when (Phil) Mickelson hit his shot into 18," Waits said. "It could have turned either way on that shot. He hit it in there seven or eight feet. He's deadly with his wedge. He runs it down for a birdie on 18 and it was lights out.

"I was standing up there as he was coming down the fairway and I was hollering 'run it down, run it down'. I was standing at the rail and he just kinda pointed at me. That was a neat thing."

Two other finishes were disappointing.

"Tom Watson broke my heart two times," Waits said. "It didn't hurt me as much as it hurt him.

"On the 17th green at St. Andrews is the Road Hole. He hit his shot close to that old stone wall that they had there. I've often wondered why he didn't play the ball off the wall so it would bounce back onto the green. But he didn't, and he lost that.

"I was in the stands in 2009 when he lost (to Stewart Cink) in the playoff.

"My interest never waned."

Waits initially used an agency to book his trips.

"They booked my son and me," he said." We flew Lufthansa Airline. We ended up in Amsterdam and had a long layover. Neither one of us had ever been. The only place we got to go was the airport because if you left, you'd have to clear security again. That in itself is a nightmare.

"We ended up in Edinburgh.

"I got to thinking about it and started looking into the tickets. I have become friends with the ticket agent at St. Andrews, a very sweet lady. Her name is Karen McLeod.

"My seat is in the grandstand behind the 18th green."

Waits started making his own arrangements 10 years ago. He leaves on the Wednesday before the annual July event and uses the first day or two to adjust to the six-hour time difference.

"The practice rounds are really fun," he said.

So is location. Waits tries to book a room in the community that is hosting the event.

"One thing is for certain," he said." You just don't go out and decide you're going to get reservations and tickets to go to The Open today. It's not done.

"I'm not worried about my tickets. It's a place to stay.

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