Creativity and patience a must around Muirfield

In 1992, I was fortunate enough to qualify for my one and only appearance in a Major, the British Open Championship at Muirfield.

After years of trials and tribulations, I had finally realised my ambition to play in the greatest professional championship of them all and at a venue widely respected as being one of the very best Britain has to offer.

When preparing for your first Major you are immediately struck by the sheer scale of the event. Logistically, the British Open is extremely impressive and right from the off you are made to feel very special indeed. From the courtesy cars to the players’ lounge, from the practice facilities to the knowledgeable galleries, everything is there to help you optimise your performance or, at the very least, leave a lasting impression.

The British Open is famed for its one-tee start and very long playing schedule over the first couple of days, with the first players off at 7am and the final group going out at 4pm.

It is also famed for its changing weather conditions. A good draw therefore is ideal, but as with all Major championships, this tournament is all about utilising your time both on and off the course and staying patient.

In 1992, Nick Faldo was the world’s best player and the great Jack Nicklaus was still actively competing. There was no Tiger Woods in the field, but there was one John Daly, the then USPGA Champion.

Daly was new to the British fans and when he rolled up to the practice ground it seemed as if the whole gallery only had eyes for him. He toyed with the crowds throughout his practice routine, much to the irritation of the other more serious golfers on the range. But every professional knew he was the only real “show” on the range and when he finally pulled out his driver, much to the hollering delight of his fans, everyone more or less stopped to watch in awe as he effortlessly launched several bombs over the boundary fence. Show over. Everyone duly returned to their practice.

My abiding memories of the Muirfield course itself were the knee-high wispy grass, the constant breeze, the penal bunkers strategically placed to force the player into consideration and, of course, the tough finishing stretch.

My own preparations were limited by a trapped nerve in my back, which meant for probably the first time in my life I wasn’t fully fit to play. But that was never going to stop me.

Being paired with my old pal Philip Walton was great, but it still did nothing to stop the adrenaline rush walking through the massive galleries onto the first tee box.

A quick check of my lines were then in order before the insufferable wait to be announced to play by the Open’s official starter Ivor Robson.

Just teeing up the ball at that moment was a difficult task in itself, but once done it was all about committing to my target and staying within my pre-shot routine. My game plan was simple. Play within myself over the opening holes and maximise any opportunities that came my way.

A nervy start was quickly followed by some solid golf and a place on the leaderboard at the turn on two under par. But some poor shots and a dodgy next 27 holes ultimately left me signing for a pair of 72s, one shot off the cut 143. My first British Open experience was over and as hard as I tried I was never again able to return as a competitor again.

This week, Muirfield will host all the regular names we associate with Major championships. At 7,192 yards in dry, warm conditions the course will play relatively short for these bigger and stronger athletes, but it will also challenge them to recalibrate their brains and produce an array of shot-making skills they rarely need to use on either of the two main tours.

For those, of which there are many, not capable of being creative and patient, Muirfield will be no fun. As surely envisioned by Old Tom Morris when he originally designed the golf course in 1891, their test this week will be nature itself.

Muirfield has produced great British Open champions down the years as Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson, Nick Faldo (twice) and Els have all won here.

So it should provide some consolation for three-time champion Tiger Woods, who has witnessed 20 championships go by with 18 different winners since his last Major victory.

It is ideally suited to his game, but the same can be said for many of the other fancied candidates and that includes the Irish.

Tough but fair, the winner this week will have backed himself and produced the necessary shots when required. He will have found “the way to win”.

In good conditions, expect fireworks at Muirfield and a worthy champion.

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