Americans are accustomed to believing that because they are the self-proclaimed “greatest country in the world,” everything they touch ought to be somehow equally “super.” Unfortunately, that does not always translate into being the “best,” especially when Mother Nature has a say about it.
Last month, the golf world watched in awe as Rory McIlroy played a traditional representation of an American-style golf course as if it were a pitch-and-putt. He was joined by a group of golfers from “across the pond” and elsewhere around the globe. The resulting critical reactions were not exactly flattering.
This week, we are being treated to our yearly opportunity to see how golf is played as it was intended to be ... against The Course. We have long been told that, especially in stroke play, we play, not against an opponent, but against The Course, and I have no quibble with that ... and never have.
So, please allow me to proffer my point that The (British) Open is the true test of man against The Course, and here’s why:
On American courses, players have always striven to be “long” and only in recent times have those same players be lauded for “shaping” their shots.
At The Open, keeping one’s tee shot in the Fairway and out of the penal “gorse” is paramount to a good score.
On an American course, a “blind shot” is usually thought of as a dogleg where the player must launch his shot over, or around, the trees if he can, or play to the “elbow” of the dogleg for an unfettered look at the Green.
At The Open, a “blind shot” does not involve trees. It encompasses a knowledge by the Caddy and Golfer of the myriad of topographical changes in elevation, the presence of bumps, and what many American golfers consider “peculiarities." It requires a stern and steadfast concentration on “lines” (of flight) desired and paths away from penal lies.
A quick look at the “pot bunkers” tells you just about all you need to know. They look as if they were left behind after a shelling in the last World War, but they were not. Instead, they were created because such impressions were indigenous to the landscape. They are not "sand traps" as Americans might be accustomed to finding. They are meant to be penal, even severely so.
Failing to negotiate over, around, or through the "pot bunkers" will balloon one’s scorecard and mean that you failed against The Course.
On American courses, players who hit shots high and long can often go for the Green from great distances, aspiring to stop the ball on the Green. At The Open, players must approach the Green more cautiously, often landing the ball in front of the Green and “running it up” ... failing to understand this and execute approach shots considerately means The Course beat the Golfer.
On American courses, Greens are considered to be targets in which the Hole is found, sometimes fully seen from the Tee and at other times represented by just a flag waving. At The Open, the Green can be as large as a few dance-floors, but as undulating as an old-fashioned wooden roller-coaster.
At the US Open this year we saw a very humid venue, which was replete with occasional showers, that softened the Greens, making them susceptible to the attack of the Players.
At The Open, the Greens are wind-swept at a minimum but can be hardened like a dance-floor by gales of up to 45 mph. There have been some players who have actually practiced on gymnasium floors in preparation.
In America and at The Open, rain is not a reason to suspend play, however, as we all learned at the Ryder Cup, there is rain and then there’s RAIN !!! The main difference is that at The Open, rain is usually made more bothersome by the wind, and the simple fact that there is no relief from either.
Rain on an American course usually softens the Course, making it a shot-maker’s paradise, however, at The Open it rarely has as dramatic an influence.
Changing, then Changing Again
One of the most renowned aspects of any course assigned to host The Open is the fact that, from round to round, the Course can change so drastically that it is never the same. The confidence a golfer attains on one day is immediately, and unceremoniously, dashed the next.
In America, architects constantly mold, muddle, and manufacture a matrix of challenges to the golfer.
At The Open, the Course is less manipulated because it has partnered with Mother Nature to be as it was intended, regardless of where in the Isles it is held; the key is to respect Mother and all she wants to teach you !!!