Tag Archives: British Open

Trials and Triumph at Royal Troon


Golf needed this.

After Jordan Spieth’s meltdown at Augusta.

And the rules fiasco at Oakmont.

After the flack and posturing over the absence of many of the game’s top players at the Olympics next month.

Golf needed this. And Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson delivered.

Stenson/Mickelson was not quite dramatic as Watson/Nicklaus in the latter pair’s famous “Duel In the Sun” at Turnberry in 1977, although the circumstances were similar. In both instances, the combatants separated themselves from the field by a substantial margin and simply did not back down. The edge still has to go the Duel in the Sun, as that particular contest literally came down to the final hole – and literally the final stroke, as Nicklaus had fashioned an improbable birdie from the tall fescue on the 18th and rolled in a 35 foot putt, mentally shrinking the hole for what had previously seemed to be a gimmee on Watson’s two-foot putt. But Tom rolled it in, and his stature in the game was cemented.

Yesterday’s finish came pretty damned close. Consider that Lefty shot a bogey-free 6-under 65, including an improbable save on the 12th – and still finished three shots behind Henrik Stenson, whose final round 63 actually included 2 bogies, including an opening hole three putt that had most of us wondering if final round major championship nerves had set in. Three consecutive birdies later, we had the answer, and were treated to a mixture of spectacular shot making and courageous scrambling by both golfers, culminating with Stenson closing the door on a game Mickelson in the final holes.

It’s been a long road for the Swede, who has seen both ends of the spectrum in his career. Stenson won the World Match Play in 2007 and the Player’s Championship in 2009, but then fell into a spiral that saw him drop to 230th in the world rankings. He fought his way back; in 2013 he scored several impressive victories and won the FedEx Cup (he also finished runner-up that year at the Open, finishing three shots behind .  . . Phil Mickelson).

He has continued his good play since then on both the PGA and European Tours, and was a key contributor in continuing Europe’s Ryder Cup dominance in 2014 – and speaking of which, wouldn’t a Stenson/Mickelson match-up at this year’s proceedings at Hazeltine be absolutely delicious?

Stenson is said to be the possessor of a keen, dry sense of humor, and at times has been known to snap a club or two in anger. Perhaps most infamously, he once stripped down to his underwear to play a shot from a hazard, which created a bit of a ruckus among the more crusty golf aficionados. I daresay that being the Champion Golfer of the Year in record setting fashion will dress up his resume.

As for Phil . . . he did everything right except win the tournament. His own 63 in the opening round was bogey-free, and but for a stray blade of grass and the combined pact with golfing Satan by Nick Price, Nick Faldo, Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Johnny Miller working against him on 18, he would have achieved golf immortality with the lowest round in major championship golf history.

This was the 11th runner up finish for Mickelson in a major, which cruelly also makes him the bridesmaid to Jack Nicklaus in that category. There have been times when he’s been his own worst enemy in arriving at those finishes, but in the final round at Troon he played brilliant, courageous golf. In his victory speech, the first person that Stenson thanked was Mickelson for pushing him to play the best golf of his life. While this was a gracious thought, it was likely of small consolation to Phil, who has not won since his 2013 victory at Muirfield and, at age 46, could be seeing his chances at another major championship dwindling.

Then again, it was pointed out in one of the earlier rounds of the outstanding coverage provided by the Golf Channel and NBC that the average age of an Open Champion is about 10 years older than any of the other majors. I hadn’t really thought about it, but in the last 6 years, 5 winners have been at least 39 years old (Rory McIlroy being the exception). Stenson and Mickelson combine for 86 years on the planet.

I suppose what this brings to light is that links golf presents a number of unique challenges – the penal bunkering, the firm, bouncy turf, slower greens, and, of course, the weather; all of which require adaptability in shot-making and not a little bit of patience in accepting the ever changing, unpredictable conditions.

Tom Watson almost pulled off an Open Championship at the age of 59. Maybe Phil gets another chance. But this one had to hurt.


I have to believe that the R&A was thrilled with the outcome of this year’s Open – not only by the quality of play by the champion and runner-up, but by the fact that there were no major controversies regarding rules or procedures.

The week didn’t start that way, as the deadline for Olympic commitments coincided with the Open’s practice sessions and press conferences. Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson were “game time decisions,” both decided against going, citing health and security concerns. Johnson, as is his wont, gave a brief answer at his presser and moved on to other topics. Spieth, on the other hand, bent over backwards and tied himself in knots explaining that if it were any other year, he’d be thrilled to go, that it was the hardest decision in his life, and so on. He also pronounced that he felt better about his swing than he has all year . . . and proceeded to spend the first three rounds playing most of his tee shots from the right rough.  A final round 68 may provide some momentum for the upcoming PGA Championship (moved up in the schedule by two weeks to accommodate the Olympics), but he still seems frustrated on the course.

But it was Rory McIlroy who gave golf scribes their juiciest bits, stating in no uncertain terms that the Olympics were not an event to which he aspired, that it was not his sole responsibility to grow the game, and that if he did tune in, it would be to watch swimming or track and field. This sent the Defender of the Rings into an uproar – I thought Brandel Chamblee would explode on the Golf Channel set – and McIlroy did somewhat couch his statements later, citing his involvement with youth golf programs and the First Tee as evidence to his commitment to the future of golf. He did not, however, back off from his feelings about Olympic golf.

As I’ve stated previously, there are several flies in the Olympic golf ointment – the scheduling, the format, and the manner of qualification make for a weak field and a boring tournament [at least this is the case on the men’s draw. On the women’s side, there seems to be firm commitment from virtually all of the top qualifying players. I’m predicting an all-South Korean podium].

Maybe the Olympics will surprise us. After watching what transpired this week at Royal Troon, I doubt it.

Advertisements

The Golf Nerd’s 2016 Open Championship Preview

[Before we start – a plaintive plea to the men and women of the Royal & Ancient]

Dear R&A,

While I respect your position as one of the two main rule-making organizations in the world of golf, I have to say that, along with your comrades at the USGA, you seem to be somewhat clueless when running the oldest major championship in the world (for evidence, please refer to Open Championship, St Andrews, 2015).

The Open Championship has become my favorite major to watch. I am an unabashed lover of links golf, and thoroughly embrace its unpredictable nature. Unlike the USGA, you are not necessarily concerned with “protecting par” (although there was that nasty bit of business at Carnoustie in 1999 when the greens superintendent – unbeknownst to you – ran amok, narrowing fairways to a microscopic 12 yards in some cases) and more or less allow the elements to dictate play.

And to your credit, your institution of the 4-hole playoff (as opposed to sudden death or a full 18 the next day) as a tie breaker was a very inspired move. Last year’s denouement was exhilarating.

Also – we get that there is no replacing Ivor Robson. Don’t even try.

But for the love of Old and Young Tom, Harry Vardon, Bobby Jones, Peter Thompson, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Arnie, and Sir Nick – PLEASE do not muck things up this year. Make decisions decisively and in a timely manner, and make sure the field understands them.

There’s no need for you to be the story.

Thanks for listening,

The Golf Nerd


This will be the 9th occasion that Royal Troon has hosted the Open. It’s been a mixed bag of prior champions – Arnie, Bobby Locke, and Tom Watson have claimed the crown there. Arnie’s was particularly important, as he almost singlehandedly reintroduced the Open to American golfers and fans. On the other hand, the list of others who have won is not quite as glittering – Tom Weiskopf (who never quite seemed to reach the heights predicted for him), Mark Calcavechia, Justin Leonard, and (gasp) Todd Hamilton.

I played Royal Troon back in 2012, and quite honestly, I don’t recall a lot about it other than the famed #8 hole, a/k/a “The Postage Stamp.” That name is derived from the size of its green, which from the tee box (a mere 127 yards away) seems impossible to hit to begin with. Add the usual stiff breeze off of the Firth of Clyde, and one wonders how the 71 year old Gene Sarazen managed to score 1 and 2 in the two rounds he played at the Open in 1973. George Sutherland, a young friend and excellent golfer who has played many rounds at Troon (and who is also The Golf Nerd’s Official UK Correspondent), tells me that he’s used everything between a three-iron and a 58 degree wedge to try to hit the green.

My friend Ben Hadden managed to birdie The Postage Stamp the day we played there (an event that seems to always come up in conversation whenever we get together). Other than that, no one in our group played particularly well – it was a miserable day, about 48 degrees, windy and damp. Our caddies couldn’t wait to bolt to the nearest pub once we paid them. But there’s no doubt that Royal Troon is a stern test regardless of the conditions.

A few more pearls from my buddy George:

Everything you need to know about the members is summed up by the 6th hole. It is the longest par 5 in the world, and can’t ever be beaten. There is about 300 yards of wasteland behind it, so they can just keep on moving the championship tee further and further back whenever another course tries to take the crown. They NEED to have that damn crown.”

The 11th (Railway Hole), where Tiger took his 11, (something in double digits but can’t remember exactly) is about a 250 yard carry from a blind spot where you just aim at the post. The fairway is also very narrow and is lined by gorse. We could see some high scores there.”

“…it is very fair and old-fashioned, and that’s what I like about it. If you hit good shots, you get rewarded- no shit bounces and crappy rolls. Its real defense are its narrow fairways, deathly thick rough and strategically placed bunkers and greens. Once you get to the greens, the majority are pretty flat and easy to hole puts on compared to your usual course on tour- it’s getting there that’s the problem.”


The current hot commodity on tour is Dustin Johnson, who has fashioned back to back victories at Oakmont and Firestone and needs to be included in the potential victor’s conversation this year, along with the New Triumvirate. Others to watch are Lee Westwood, who since his divorce is playing some of the best golf of his career, and Sergio Garcia, who has a Tour victory under his belt this year and who may thrive on Troon’s relatively benign putting surfaces.

But as we’ve noted, the Open is unpredictable, particularly so at this year’s venue. I’m going to throw out a few names that might be good dark horse picks:

  • Danny Lee – he is one of the Tour’s hardest working players and has seen his effort pay off over the eighteen months. He notched a victory at last year’s Greenbrier Classic, made the Presidents Cup team, and has been a consistent presence on the leaderboards. He had a strong finish this past weekend at the Scottish Open in Castle Stuart. And I admittedly have a local bias in Danny – he’s a member at our home club and lives in our neighborhood. I don’t know him very well, but he will always smile and say “hi” to me and other members, and the young men who work in the bag room tell me that he treats them very well. Finally, he’s a true Citizen of the World – born in Korea, a naturalized citizen of New Zealand, and a current Texas resident.

 

  • Greg Chalmers – ok, this is a real stretch, but hear me out. After over 300 PGA Tour starts, the Australian won the Stableford event in Reno a few weeks ago. Greg has always been a terrific putter; unfortunately, that’s been coupled with being one of the shorter hitters on tour. He’s continued to work on his game, and recently picked up some extra distance. Again, I have a very small connection to him – he was part of a panel discussion at our club a few years ago prior to the Byron Nelson tournament, and spoke frankly about life on the PGA Tour and the struggles he experienced (one of his funnier stories involved his only appearance at the Masters, where on his opening tee shot he nailed a spectator squarely in the forehead – “I could see the imprint of the ball there,” he told us. Fortunately, both patron and golfer survived the incident). It was gratifying to see him win in Reno, which, along with the automatic two-years Tour exemption that came with it, also gave him entre into this year’s Open Championship, a tournament he openly confessed to dreaming of winning. If Todd Hamilton can win at Troon, why not Greg Chalmers?

 

  • Shane Lowry – because we need a hefty Champion Golfer of the Year from Ireland. Plus he dropped one of the all-time great f-bombs at the Honda Classic earlier this year. Those are as good reasons as any, right?