There isn't much doubt that European golfers have the advantage when the PGA Tour plays its lone major tournament outside America—the British Open.
Everyone and their mother knows The Open features links golf—a vastly different style of course than what Americans are used to. The grass is generally trimmed very lightly all around the course. And when there is fringe, it is generally huge, thick, weedy-looking stuff that makes finding a player’s ball nearly impossible.
The thinly cut grass allows players to drive the ball farther than on most American courses because the ball will roll farther. For that reason, many par fours in links golf are reachable on the first shot.
Another odd feature is the bunkers in play at Royal Lytham & St. Annes this week. They are great in number—205 total bunkers wrap around the beautiful 18-hole course. Simple math will tell you that equates to an average of more than 10 bunkers per hole.
Of course the bunkers are an avoid-at-all-cost proposition for even the most adept sand player. The great Phil Mickelson would even prefer to stay away from the traps, though among Americans the setup of this particular course most favors him.
With the cool air coming off the Irish Sea—which is just a mile away—and little water on the golf course, this setup favors European players all the way.
Some of the best sand players in the world—Lee Westwood, Luke Donald and Justin Rose (all Europeans)—figure to hold the advantage this week at Royal Lytham and St. Annes.
Will a non-European win the 2012 British Open?
Even the most cautious of players will find the bunkers with regularity. The course is simply too enticing and too filled with bunkers to avoid them.
As just mentioned, three of the world’s top bunker players are all European guys. Westwood is number three in the world in sand saves this year—as he’s been successful on 64 percent of all attempts.
Donald is 11th at nearly 61 percent and Rose is 12th at just under 60 percent. Unheralded Aaron Baddeley is actually sixth in sand saves while Ian Poulter, Carl Petterson, Padraig Harrington and Henrik Stenson are notable Europeans who round out the top 20 in sand saves.
Of that group of European players, only Luke Donald cracked the top 20 in driving accuracy. But then Lee Westwood and Justin Rose both reside in the top 12 in ball-striking. Those combined statistics tell a lot about why those three players are among the top 10 in the world.
They also say a lot about the probability of one of the three winning this week at Royal Lytham. Of course, none of them have won a career major. Each has been close. Each would love to win their first major in Great Britain—the land each calls home.
Most of all, those three grew up playing this style of golf. They are experts in how to get the ball out of the caves—aka sand traps. And they are most likely to avoid hitting the ball into them to begin with.
Ultimately, that will be the key. Whoever can avoid the traps most often will put themselves in a great spot to win this golf tournament.
Could that player actually be an American? Well, of course.
But the likelihood of an American getting out the sand here is low. Englishmen practically live in the sand. And they know just how to get out of trouble.