About 10 days ago, I put up a poll asking in what era did we have the best players in golf. Answers and opinions varied far and wide, but we had a virtual tie between the era of 1950 (Hogan era) and the 1990-early 2000’s era (Tiger Woods). Many offered comments on the players during that time. In offering my opinion, I will go a different route…
I would offer that the players in the 1900-1920’s era were the best players. This is not because of Bob Jones, Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen or any other champion of that period.
If you look at the scoring during the majors during that period, their scoring (between 285-300 for 72 holes) was not great and not as low as today’s typical winning scores. However, scores alone don’t explain which era had the better players. My reasoning for choosing this period comes down to two things.
Considering the scores they put up, also consider the equipment they were playing. First, the ball was barely round and they played courses at lengths of between 6400-6600 yards. The equipment was hickory stick shafts and club heads that looked like they had a bad day at the blacksmith shop. Consider the tool of the trade they had to work with, those 72 hole scores were pretty good.
Also, consider the course conditioning of the time. The tools used to maintain the courses were hardly up to par in that time and can’t compare to our fairways of today that are mowed lower than greens in that era. Many times, bunkers were not raked. Can you imagine young Jordan Speith finding his ball in an unraked bunker? Michael would be getting an earful.
Every era has great individual players. However, I believe the players of the early century showed immense talent given the tools and conditions they had to endure.
Things We Have Learned at the Open Championship So Far:
Royal Birkdale is a great course
Well, we sort of knew that going in, but it has been reaffirmed after the first two rounds. Not a bad thing has been mentioned regarding Royal Birkdale. Players have almost been unanimous in their sentiment that Birkdale is ‘tough, but fair’…about the best comment you can give a great layout. The bunkers seem perfectly placed on each hole…good shots are rewarded and poor shots are penalized. Scoring has been indicative of a challenging, but fair course. Six under leads after 36 holes and weather has only been an issue for part of the draw.
This is anybody’s championship to win
With the wind forecast to lay down (5-15 mph) on Saturday and maybe softer conditions from the rain, someone could shoot up the leaderboard with a 64/65. Anyone within 7-8 shots of the lead is definitely still in the championship.
But this is Speith’s championship to lose
I just don’t see Speith backing up. The second round 69 was better played than his first round. Somebody is going to have to come get him. His pitching and putting look very solid when he misses greens, his putting looks better than it has in a long time …not good news for the chasers.
‘You can’t win it on Thursday, but you can lose it’
Why do I keep thinking that with Rory McIlroy? I think the start on Thursday will be his undoing. He looked solid the last 27 holes and no reason to believe he continue the form we saw on Friday. He is the player that could fire up a 64 Saturday…he will need to doing something special to make up for the atrocious start.
Started as a club professional, made it to the tour with success, serial social media guy, struggled the past few years and now seems to have found some form. Oh, and he’s English. His being in contention is a welcome return and good for golf. Like him or hate him, he is a character and adds a little flavor to the event. Yes, if he would win, it would be the feel-good story of the year so far and take the UK citizen's minds off Brexit for a bit.
The annual Open Championship streaker has not made an appearance. However, the weekend and plenty of Tennets will probably bring the person out of hiding. Have no fear Mr. Streaker, the ‘Get in the Hole’ guy from the US had you covered the first two days.
It’s 1:30 am…time to wake up and watch some golf! Even though the woolies may be out early this morning, we could be in for lower scores today.
Downpours and thunderstorms chased the players from Royal Birkdale on Wednesday afternoon. While limiting their last minute preparations, the rain brings good news to the players. The turf will be softened with the heavy rain and should make the course a bit easier, so long as the wind doesn’t blow Thursday. Royal Birkdale really only has one hole where you can definitely be thinking birdie (17), but the softer conditions should allow the players to hit some close approach shots. We could very easily see a 64 from someone.
This Open Championship is about the most wide-open that I can recall. There really is not a clear-cut favorite going into the event. Dustin Johnson, Jordan Speith and Rickie Fowler are co-favorites at 14-1, followed closely by Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia at 16-1. But this Open could be easily won by a player nobody is talking about. Marc Leishman and Shane Lowry are players that come to my mind. Ian Poulter has gradually come back into contending form recently. Padraig Harrington even is a possibility.
Thursday’s forecast just calls for clouds and 15-20 mph breeze. Friday has rain in the forecast. The eventual winner could benefit from timing…tee timing that is.
Professional golfers and yes, recreation golfer in the US are spoiled. Our golf courses are lush, the fairways are smooth, our courses are watered to be soft and our greens are shaved closer than a Marine crew cut. Our courses are perfectly manicured…we know how far we must fly the ball and we know it will pretty much stop on the green. Believe it or not, we have ‘Americanized’ golf.
But then comes an event one week out of each year in July that has some magic. Thanks to the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, the Open Championship showcases how golf was intended to be played. We get to see links golf.
Our courses in the US are lush and green. We all love watching the Masters, as August National is the best manicured course in our country. This week, here comes Royal Birkdale, with its varying shades of brown and humps and bumps. Quite the contrast.
Links is derived from a Scottish word meaning ‘ridge.’ Links courses were built on coastal areas, consisting of sand dunes, that were considered unsuitable for farming. Fescue grasses were the only thing that would grow and the soil drained well. With the lack of moisture, the grass tends to have long roots. What you get is a very firm surface with long wispy fescue grasses off the mown areas and the naturally undulating areas between the dunes. Sorry Pebble Beach, Harbour Town and others here in the US...you are not links courses.
Links golf forces you to put up with the vagaries of the weather and humpy-bumpy hard turf. Some have equated the surrounding to like being on the moon. You must have a variety of shots in your arsenal. In the US, you can be somewhat robotic in your approach to playing a course through the air. You know how far that pitching wedge goes to the tenth of a yard. Guess what? Links golf cuts through all that bull-butter. You better have every shot in the bag when you step foot on a links course.
Links golf is you versus the course. You have no shelter from what Mother Nature may bring. One moment it may be sunny and five minutes later, you have gale force wind and it is raining sideways. You see the weather approaching sometimes like a drunken ex-girlfriend who spots you at a party. You know what’s coming and you have nowhere to hide.
You will hit what you think are good shots, only to see them bound off the green or sideways into a pot bunker, the wispy fescue or the gorse. Oh yes, the bunkers on links courses are true penalties. No one this white sand, low lip, perfectly raked stuff we have in the US. You go in a bunker on a links courses, it is wedging out sideways back to the fairway. And yes, sometimes you must hit backwards! We in the US complain about ‘bad bounces’ and ‘not getting rewarded’ for good shots. I can just see Old Tom Morris saying, Aye, but isn’t that how life goes?’
You can’t be a robot playing a links. You can play the same links course twice in one day and play your shots totally different in the second round versus the first. You must think your away around the course. You can’t just bomb it, go find it and bomb it again like many in the modern era tend to do. That aspect alone makes links golf worth appreciating. You must know and understand the land and the shots only begin to take shape once they hit the turf. Read the greens, but you also better read the land.
Links golf is the purest form of golf and for all these reasons are why I truly would rather play a links course any day of the week. There is no truer test of your golfing ‘toolbox’ than teeing it up for a round at a seaside links course. Having different options, the challenge of creating and executing different shots during a round is what golf is about.
My first time playing Royal Lytham & St. Annes, I had 120 yards into the 18th green. I decided to chip and run and 7 iron. It got no more than 6 feet off the ground, carried about 50 yards in the air and ran the rest to about 12 feet from the flag. On the balcony of the clubhouse right behind the green a few members were watching me. As I approached the green they lifted their drinks and shouted, ‘You must be a local.’ My response, ‘I wish I were.’
Let’s face it…watching golf on television is boring. Ok, maybe that is too much of a blanket statement. But you must admit, many times, outside the majors, we have talking heads talking over the action trying to entertain the viewer. They go on about the minutiae of the golf swing (many times incorrectly), the pressure the players are under, the difficult pin positions, etc. It is enough to put you to sleep watching the event.
As we approach this week’s Open Championship, among the things that deserve celebrating is one person who is no longer a part of US broadcasts. Peter Alliss was a mainstay of ABC and ESPN major championship golf coverage for many years. The longtime BBC broadcaster moonlighted on the US networks while working the tournaments for the ‘Beebs’.
Simply put, Peter Alliss was the Voice of Golf. He had the perfect combination of knowledge, timing and wit during a broadcast that made watching golf and listening to the commentary enjoyable. His love of the game came across to the viewer and he had an innate ability to weave stories relative to the current event into the broadcast. Unlike now, I did not want to hit the mute button during the broadcast if Peter was talking.
He did not shy away from criticizing the players when he thought they were wrong. When Rory McIlroy proclaimed he didn't like weather being a factor in playing major championships, Alliss suggested 'perhaps he should go play snooker.' When Tiger Woods was changing swing and short game coaches in the late 2000's, Alliss wondered, 'Why on earth would the greatest striker & chipper of the ball change his method? It's like Pavarotti saying, 'I'm fed up with being a tenor, I'm going to sing baritone."
He has also been a long-time advocate for simplifying the rules of golf. Why? 'They are complicated and draconian. Also, most breaches are out of ignorance. If you asked golf professionals to take a rules test, only 5% percent would pass.'
His wit and humor are legendary. When the moment called for levity, he almost always had the right words:
On Rickie Fowler when he wore his cap over his ears-
‘Oliver Cromwell used to wear a hat just like that when he battled the cavaliers…came right down over the ears.’
On Jordan Speith after holing a birdie putt-
'What a dandy of a putt...and he's single I do believe...what a catch!'
On the weather in Scotland-
'One good thing about the rain in Scotland...it eventually all becomes scotch.
On Carol Vordeman (Host of Countdown in UK...think of her as a UK version of Vanna White)-
'Ah Carol Vordeman...I like her...I was watching her the other day and I got aroused....not bad...that's seven letters, not bad for someone who left school when they were 15.'
Peter indeed brought a little bit of everything to his broadcasts, which is why it made him the best. I think he may be doing some BBC radio commentary this week. You will find me muting the TV and turning up the radio if that is the case.
One of the first Open Championship Rota courses I was fortunate to play was Royal Birkdale. Upon entering the property, the first things that hits you is the clubhouse. Once described as a ‘spaceship’, it is not the proto-typical foreboding clubhouses you think of when visiting these great links courses in the United Kingdom. Once inside, you find a building that is oozing in history with pictures and hardware commemorating the 26 Royal & Ancient major championships (professional and amateur) that the club has hosted.
The golf course itself is one of my favorite layouts. It looks like Frederick Hawtree and J.H. Taylor just walked along and plotted the fairways and placed the greens between all the natural valleys and dunes of the property. It is fair but tough. Good and straight shots are rewarded, while wayward shots are penalized by the bunkers, fescue and dunes. There is nothing quirky about this course. It is easily one of the Top 100 golf courses in the world. I have played it three times and enjoyed it more each time around the layout.
If the course gets a wee breeze this week, look for the scores to a bit on the high side this week. Only once has the winner of the Open (Lee Trevino in 1971) managed to reach double digits under par. Royal Birkdale is a wonderful mix of challenging dogleg par 4’s and great par 3’s. There are two par 5’s, but you don’t get them until the 15th and 17th holes. This par-70 will challenge the field and I consider it one of the more difficult Open Rota layouts.
There will be a few key holes this week. Of course, this will depend which way the wind blows on the Merseyside. As I write, the wind is forecast for about 15 mph, with gusts to 25 mph on the first two days of the championship. Given that, here are the key holes from my experience in playing Royal Birkdale.
1st Hole—Par 4, 450 yards
This is a great starting hole and no easing into this layout. A dogleg left, most players will probably take a long iron or hybrid off the tee thread their ball between a bunker and dune on the corner and fescue waiting at the far corner of the dogleg. From there, mid-to-long iron approach awaits to a green which slopes from away from you, front to back. A couple of bunkers guard the front of the green which is surrounded by small dunes. Four is a good score any day here, no matter which way the wind blows.
4th Hole—Par 3, 199 yards
One of things you get at Birkdale are many holes with elevated tees and superb par 3’s. This first of which is this hole. From the very back of the tee, you may have trouble seeing the entire green. Sometimes, it is best not to see what awaits you. Played usually with a prevailing crosswind, you hit a mid-iron downhill to a narrow kidney shaped green. Three bunkers guard the left and there is not much of an opening to run the ball up. A nasty bunker guards the right side and awaits and ball which rides the wind too much off the tee. Any pin on the left side will make 3 a number which gains strokes on the field. Walking off the green to the next tee, you will see the original professional shop at the club.
6th Hole—Par 4, 499 yards
This hole is a beast. The prevailing wind is into you and off the right. A bunker guards the corner of the hole at about 270 yards off the tee. Anything in the right side of this fairway short of that bunker, leaves you a blind shot to the green, as sand dunes line the entire right side up to just short of the green. Designed for a par 5, the green is long and narrow, slightly elevated from the fairway. More than likely, this will be the hardest hole on the course this week.
10th Hole—Par 4, 402 yards
This is a real sleeper of a hole and with the prevailing wind, could be a difficult hole this week. Many will hit a long iron off the tee. You must hit the fairway of this reverse camber hole. Two bunkers guard the corner of the dogleg left, while the fairway slopes right to left toward three more bunkers. The approach shot plays slightly uphill to a green that is perfectly placed in a small amphitheater of sand dunes.
12th Hole—Par 3, 188 yards
Another of Birkdale’s wonderful par 3’s. A solid strike with a mid-iron is a must on this hole. Two deep bunkers guard the entrance to the long green placed between the dunes. Some members say this is the signature hole of the layout.
17th Hole—Par 5, 567 yards
With a prevailing wind, this will be the par 5 which most of the field reaches in two. The tee shot will fly between two large dunes on each side of the dogleg. Two bunkers are on the right side of the landing area, at about 320 yards off the tee. Despite being easily reachable for the players, the 2nd shot must be precise. The green is long and narrow, guarded by three bunkers and large dunes on each side. You will see 3’s and many 4’s here…but I could easily a player in the dunes and a score of 6 ruining a player’s chance at glory this week.
18th Hole—Par 4, 465 yards
Maybe the best finishing hole in the Open Rota. From the championship tee, it is a blind tee shot, as you can’t see the landing area. The tee shot must avoid all the fescue down the right side and the bunkers on each side of the dogleg right. That’s half the battle. Now, you face a mid-iron shot to a green with a narrow entrance and many little humps and hollows around the green. Tom Watson hit a great 2 iron approach here in 1983 to seal his win. That long of a club will not be required this time, but a player needing a 4 to win will need to be precise with his approach.
Follow the Open Championship all week here. We will explore all things 'the Open' each day.
Monday: Royal Birkdale--The club and course review. What will be some of the key holes for the Open?
Tuesday: 'The Voice of Golf'. Television coverage of the majors just isn't the same without Peter Alliss.
Wednesday: Links Golf...why everyone should play it and learn to appreciate it.
Thursday-Sunday: Thoughts and other views on the Open
It's that week of the year where I host a golf camp for junior players, so not much time to write this week. But one thing I have been thinking about lately...in what era did the best golfers play? I will have a blog up next week with my opinion, but below is a poll. Let me know what you are thinking by taking the survey and feel free to leave comments. Again, sorry for the short post, but it's back to the practice tee with the wee-ones!
Nestled in the West Virginia hills, on a 500-acre site of an abandoned coal mine, is located one of Pete Dye’s least known designs. It probably doesn’t receive the notoriety of the TPC at Sawgrass, Whistling Straits (Straits Course), Harbour Town or the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island. However, the club, named after the designer himself, is every bit as good.
A private club opened in 1996, the Pete Dye Club in Bridgeport, was 16 years in the making from concept to opening. Mr. Dye himself even made around 150 visits to the site. After many changes to the routing of the course, Dye came up with a real gem.
Simpsons Creek is a major feature in the design of the course, coming into play on several holes. Starting the front nine, the tee shot at #2 requires an accurate tee shot over the creek. Like many Dye courses, the fairways are generous, but there is that visual intimidation on this and many holes at the PDC that we have come to expect from the designer. The greens also have their share of undulation to challenge your short game.
The setting around the Par 5 8th green must be one Dye loves. The green sits just to the left of what must be at least a 50 ft high rock wall. One thing you notice immediately about this course if that it looks very natural to its setting. It would almost lead you to believe that they didn’t have to move much dirt/rock to make the layout…although you know a great deal of bulldozing probably had to be done. Either way, this course like a natural part of the mountains.
You cross back over Simpson Creek to begin the back nine. The 11th, 12th and 13th holes run right along the base of the hillside. Two holes on the back (15 and 18) have signature Dye features…water guarding one side of each hole down its entirety. The finishing 18th is a brute. At 500 yards from the championship tee, the par four requires two exacting shots to avoid Simpson Creek which winds its way all the way down the left side of the hole.