Visitors to the UK often seek out the sites of tradition. Indeed it seems that British pomp and circumstance holds a special appeal – none more apparent than at the country’s leading sporting events, such as the Open Championship, which under the guidance of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews has barely moved away from its traditions over the past century and a half.
This year the 143rd Open Championship returns to Royal Liverpool Golf Club or Hoylake, and once again you can expect much of the same. Snooty or not and begrudgingly it seems, the British do large public events well and for golfing enthusiasts few can beat the Open Championship’s mix of tradition and excitement.
Parked will be the discussions surrounding the advances of golfing technology and the fact that for the first time in their 260 year existence, the R&A are proposing their 2,500 strong male membership come into the 21st century and vote on a motion to “welcome” female members into their club!
Instead, the R&A’s sole focus will once again be on delivering a successful championship and a worthy winner in what is probably the most prestigious professional championship of all. So, given the stage has been set, what can we expect this week?
There have been a few subtle changes to the course, but nothing of real note, since it last held the Open Championship in 2006, when Tiger Woods won. Then, he was able to steer his irons to victory around a sun-drenched course but this year Hoylake will play tougher with its lush rough and slower fairways.
As with all great links courses, Hoylake will test the full repertories of shots; their accuracy in terms of avoiding the penal pot bunkers, their ability to control the trajectory of their ball flight in the wind, their short game and most especially, their creativity. It is also a course that favours past winners as six of the previous 11 winners at Hoylake had already won the Open Championship at least once before.
The real beauty of the Open Championship on links courses is that it gives far more players an opportunity, but opportunity is one thing, winning is another matter altogether.
Statistics suggest that experience counts but so too does all-round consistency in all aspects of the player’s game. Given the nature of the challenge of links golf, players must embrace the fact that the golf course will not overpower them physically but mentally. Long wispy grass, pot bunkers and a bouncing ball can be a lethal combination on a links course, but even more costly can be a mental error, a rash decision in frustration. (Who can forget Jean Van De Velde’s disastrous 18th hole in Carnoustie in 1999). The winner this week will be the one who can demonstrate the greatest resolve in adversity. Attitude counts!
In 2006 Tiger Woods used the par 5’s at Hoylake to create his winning platform, playing the 16 par 5’s in 14 under par. The winner this week will need to do much the same.
So what can we expect this week in terms of player performances? Are we going to see someone dominate the tournament from the off like Martin Kaymer did so impressively at last month’s US Open? Quite possibly, but the statistics suggest something else.
What we do know is that the eventual winner will be someone who is there or thereabouts all tournament. This week the weather forecast suggests the early starters today may have a slight advantage, but it will be all about the start. Kaymer demonstrated that players couldn’t afford to relax and play their way into tournament contention. As with the US Open, there is simply too much quality and experience in the field this week.
Justin Rose is the form player going into the tournament, having won his last two events, but unfortunately I think that he may have peaked too early. Kaymer’s welcome return to form this year also makes him a threat this week but I am more interested in witnessing how Woods can do in his comeback major championship. I expect him to be competitive.
I am also very interested in the challenge of our own Michael Hoey, Henrik Stenson, and Thomas Bjorn. Hoey is a sleepy steely competitor with a proven pedigree on links courses. He is no stranger to this stage but it will take an exceptional performance to win. I expect him to be competitive.
Of all the others I would love to see a Scandinavian winner and if not Henrik Stenson then Thomas Bjorn. Both have great pedigree on links courses, both have come close to winning before and either would be a fitting winner of this great event.
Either way it seems that once again we can strap ourselves in for another classic!
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