Open Championship Preview

Post by Richard Kaplan

The Course

St AndrewsThere are 2 courses in golf that stir the emotions like none other, and that appear on more people’s bucket lists, than Augusta and the Old Course at the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, the much revered ‘home of golf’. We see Augusta every year in The Masters, but the Open Championship at St Andrews only comes at us sporadically, in fact every 5 years at present, and must be the most sought-after of all Open Championship venues, both for players and spectators. And you can’t count yourself as a true golf nut unless you’re already starting to make arrangements this weekend around the TV golf schedule. Supersport will be live from 10am to 9pm on Thursday and Friday, 11am to 8:30pm on Saturday, and from 12 to 8pm for Sunday’s final round.

Jack, Seve, Nick and Tiger have all won Opens there, yet strangely enough one of the greatest Open Champions ever, Tom Watson, somehow never managed a win at St Andrews in his 5 titles. Watson bows out of Major golf this week in what I’m sure will be a very emotional farewell.

The course for this 29th edition of the event to be held on these hallowed links is going to be unlike most others in that after heavy rains in the area over the last few weeks, the course is going to play long, but soft, which will make it play more like target golf than good old-fashioned bump ‘n run stuff. In other words, we’re going to have this event play more like a regular PGA Tour stop, when the recent US Open played more like a links course event.

There are some changes to the Old Course since our own Louis Oosthuizen last won The Open there in 2010. The R&A, under their soon-to-retire head, Peter Dawson, have added in some bunkers to be more in the range of these big-hitting Tour Pros than ever before, as well as some extra humps and bumps on the sides of some of the greens where they’ve noticed stray shots getting too lenient a treatment in previous events there.

The 2 main hazards on the course are the huge undulating greens (including 7 double greens serving two holes each) that make hitting greens in regulation relatively easy, but then leave lots of work to do just to get down in 2 putts, plus of course the biggest hazard of them all, the 112 bunkers that litter the course, some of them large and deep, and others small and round, but still deep enough to wreck any hope of salvaging par on any particular hole. And all the bunkers have names – like the 10 foot deep Hell Bunker on the par 5 14th hole, and of course, the infamous Road Bunker on the 17th hole – and the bunkers all have tales of woe throughout the years of Open Championship golf attached to them.

The course runs anticlockwise, outward from the 1st, with OB all the way down the right, then a few holes that go back and forth around the halfway mark, and then back home down the last 8 holes or so, and again with OB on the right. So the inside of the entire course is the safe side, always to the left. But that’s where most of the small almost-invisible fairway bunkers are, so driving to the right side of the fairway and closer to the OB, is generally better.

Amongst many other traditions at Open Championships to look out for is the starter on the 1st tee, Ivor Robson, who is expected to ‘hang up his mike’ after this Open. Robson will start his 41st consecutive Open, where he stands on the tee from 7am until about 3:40pm, with no break for meals, and is alleged to lose a good few kilos during the 4 days of the Championship.

If you want some great views and flyovers of the course, check out this link, plus for some great reading about St Andrews click on this link.

The Contenders

1. Can anyone beat Jordan Spieth? Is he chasing the unchasable, the ultimate golf dream of winning all 4 Majors in 1 calendar year? As he gets closer to tee-off on Thursday, the incredible pressure on his young 21-year-old shoulders will be at an all-time high, with his every move being closely scrutinised, and the golfing world will be hanging on every word he says, and watching every swing that he makes, and every putt that he strokes. Another huge week at last week’s John Deere Classic on the PGA Tour will add even more pressure, as not many players can continue winning week after week, especially with all the extra things that will be going on in Scotland. Personally, I think the heat will get too much for him, and his odd tendency to leak a few shots right might be a problem, especially in wind and crosswinds, especially a left-to-right breeze over his left shoulder. Although he’s putting better than anyone else in history, that little chicken wing just after impact is going to become a problem somewhere along the way. Make no mistake, I’d dearly love to see him complete ‘The Slam’.

2. Can Dustin Johnson bounce back after another Major heartbreak? This question I’ll answer for you in a few days time, but there’s no doubt of his unrivalled talent and ability, save for his toughness under the gun. He’s in form, so should be around the 1st page of the leaderboard come the end of the week.

3. I like the South African connection at St Andrews. Our youngsters – Louis, Branden and Charl – are all in good form, all know the Old Course very well as they play Johann Rupert’s Dunhill event there every year (Branden actually won it a few years ago) and our oldies, Ernie and Retief both have great memories of previous events there, as well as lots of local knowledge.

4. Adam Scott had a good backdoor top 10 at Chambers Bay, and with Steve Williams back on the bag, must be in the mix. The not-so-slick greens usually found in Scotland might also be much more to his liking as his putting stroke can get a bit testy at times.
5. Has Jason Day recovered from his vertigo? If so, he’ll be there or thereabouts come Sunday pm.

6. Fast-finshing new Scottish Open champ, Ricky Fowler, will be hoping to emulate Phil’s performance 2 years ago by winning the Scottish and British Opens in consecutive weeks.

7. Phil and Matt Kooch both finished well at Gullane in the Scottish Open, so you can never count them out.

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Barry is the founder of Get Golfing South Africa and has been a PGA Professional since 2009. He has international coaching experience from The USA and worked as a golf director in South Africa since 2007 before starting Get Golfing South Africa in 2014. Barry is an R&A qualified referee and regularly officiates on the Sunshine Tour including events co-sanctioned with The European Tour.
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