2022 Open Champions, Cutmakers And Point Missers
The best, worst and somewhere in between from the 150th Open at St Andrews.
While any major event at St Andrews is destined to be a winner, much could have gone wrong with the course and logistics. Congratulations to all for a tremendous week that capped off an epic year in the big four.
Cam Smith. Four back to start the day. 64. Final round of The 150th Open. And on a baked-out, demanding Old Course? All while bypassing Rory McIlroy who wasn’t making serious mistakes? It’s a spectacular win for the ages. And while Smith’s short game is a thing to behold in an era where wizards around the greens are less common, the tee shots and tactical work down the stretch won him the Claret Jug.
Rory McIlroy. It’s difficult to put four spectacular rounds together in a major and you almost did so on fast, firm conditions that would have ruled you out a decade ago. Given how much burden you’ve taken on trying to lead the sport in a non-greed driven direction, contending this year was even more impressive. The final round 70 was solid, but there’s not much you can do about a round like Smith’s. Maybe you weren’t as crisp, but to lose without making a major gaffe on such a precise test hopefully doesn’t hurt as much. A case can be made that your overall game is stronger than in your incredible 2014 season.
Cameron Young. Eagled the last hole of The Open at St Andrews surrounded by about 10,000 people to lose by one. Staying in contention against bigger names on time-tested venues, as you did earlier this year at Riviera and Southern Hills, is stellar. And while standup comedy isn’t in your future, the writers thank you for offering smart, blunt takes in press conferences. What a great edition to the major championship landscape.
Old Course. While this masterpiece requires tees on other courses and some silly pins to defend, the course played as short as it ever has been thanks to the firm ground. It still separated the sheep from the goats by rewarding a combination and brains, brawn and beautiful golf. Players confirmed this repeatedly with only a few quibbles caused by the predictable setup issues at St Andrews. Let the countdown to the next Open in St Andrews begin. Hopefully 2027.
2022 Majors. Some years we get clunkers or a player who fell into the win after someone blew it. The satisfaction just isn’t there. But in 2022 Scottie Scheffler, Justin Thomas, Matt Fitzpatrick and Cameron Smith won their majors. The best players in golf leading up to the majors saw their form validated on the grandest stages. All of the grand slam events were compelling to the end. That just doesn’t happen often. Credit to the players for an overwhelming number of clutch shots under stifling pressure. But the stages also allowed them to perform instead of fighting good play. And think about this: The Masters was the least thrilling major of 2022. Crazy times!
Champions Challenge - Spectators continued to buzz all week about the Monday event grouping former Open champions with winners from other events. Several people recounted how a hush grew over the links when one of the adaptive players hit shots and performed so beautifully under an imposing spotlight. What could have been seen as a token acknowledgement turned out to be a powerful reminder that golfers come in many forms. Two suggestions: next time go back to a Wednesday playing when more fans are on site. Also, consider a reduced-scale version of the Challenge at every Open site, perhaps putting the focus on former winners and other champions from venue (say, just 3-4 groups).
Martin Slumbers. His pre-tournament comments delineating the real game from a pack of insular, greedy and exhausting shenanigans of professionals came off well. Some did not like him opening the door to debate. But avoiding the topic was not possible. Plus, it was his commentary driving home the importance of welcoming and family-friendly facilities for beginners, along with the R&A’s determination to inspire on that front, that sounded genuine and was a sign of quality leadership. Now we need to convince him that the Old Course is golf’s North Star and equipment rules should be shaped to keep it relevant for all generations. Or so the Old does not take 6:20 to play.
Tiger Woods. It’s still hard to believe you missed the cut hitting the ball so well, but as inspired as the comeback was, taking on the elder statesman role last week proved more important. Celebrating the Old Course and extra-historic feeling surrounding the 150th proved to be a more vital contribution than contending.
Green speeds. Impressive management work by Gordon McKie of the Links Trust and Gordon Moir’s team at the R&A allowed them to push the firmness tournament week. (The crazy wind staying away helped, too). Here’s the scariest part given how slow play was: registering 10 on the Stimp meant players actually spent way less time putting than they normally do, which highlighted for those unaware just how much the distance issue causes bottlenecks.
Amateurs. Four made the cut and watching Sam Bairstow’s family brought to tears after he was equally emotional, drove home how The Open is about many things and not just who wins. Also, how cool to see Italy’s Silver Medal winner come out and root his hero Rory home.
Australia. What a week for the country with eleven players in the field. (Matthew Griffin, Lucas Herbert, Brad Kennedy, Min Woo Lee, Marc Leishman, Jed Morgan, Dimi Papadatos, Anthony Quayle, Adam Scott, Jason Scrivener, Cameron Smith). With Smith taking home the Claret Jug, it made us forget what a tool your greatest living champion has become. Said no one at St Andrews: sure wish the Shark returned for the first time in 13 years.
Americans. It’s easy to forget that not so long ago, point-missing American pros would have seen this fast, dusty, pale, Old Course and whined like the press finding out they’d exceeded their meal allowance. Instead, we have Scottie Scheffler, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Will Zalatoris, Cameron Young, Max Homa, Collin Morikawa and many others coming over and swooning about links golf while embracing the wind, challenge and joy of this more artistic version than they find at home.
Logistics. In my informal querying of spectators, there was very little complaining about what was a tough venue to get to or to see much golf played. Yes, the grandstands took a while to fill up but that’s only because it took time to get on site. Once there, fans were engaged, respectful and stayed late.
Distance Debate. The week validated the importance of keeping places like the Old Course playable in less than six hours even if the R&A resists pointing to one course as a bellwether for regulation. The lack of flow showed how too many holes were reachable in one when they once took two to get home. Yes, the ground was extra firm, but still, irons to the 18th with a helping zephyr?
Open Radios. So nice having you back on crystal clear FM since cell reception was spotty. The 12 quid price was silly for fans given the ticket cost. A sponsor would be wise to give these away. AmEx makes a lot of friends doing this with the same exact radio at Wimbledon. Are you listening Mastercard and Rolex?
R&A Member Logo Pride. Not that long ago you could walk around an Open at St Andrews and spot a tie here or there, maybe a sweater. Very secret society vibe. But these days the members are out and proud with their insignias on shirts, hats, jumpers, socks, belts and often hitting the trifecta with three visible logos at once.
Hole Locations. Pin placements. Hole positions. Take your pick, the R&A got away with some doozies. I get that we’re trying to keep the Old Course relevant but there were just too many tucked where no reward was offered for risk taking by players. The 16th hole, in particular, should offer benefits for driving past the Principal’s Nose and flirting with the OB...
16th. The first half of this hole played so beautifully all week off the with the changes in wind direction, but the hidden left hole locations and the loss of OB next to the green has changed things. The OB came out for the new back tee on 17 and in an east wind came into play for all hole locations. Move the Road hole’s tournament tee to the same angle as the original, extend the OB, and hide the holes a little less.
Bunkers. They played tough and are starting to take on some patina. Allow them to keep aging to convey naturalism. The floors still seem artificially flat compared to the bunkers next door on the New and Eden Courses. Trying to send balls to the faces and causing sideways plays isn’t necessary. I get that it’s hard to have much shape in the floor when it’s 6 feet . Still, a natural looks must be the first priority on the most natural design of all.
NBC. We could not hear the audio at the media center and we weren’t about to watch the commercial-fest, but those who watched said the broadcast was fine when you weren’t at break. But the viewer antipathy toward the once-proud network grows. The question is: why do sponsors want to be part of such a product?
Tee time intervals. You made a more robust appearance Sunday with several five or ten-minute spacings to help the final round get closer to 4 hours instead of Saturday’s 4:30. Still…
The 9th and 18th holes. It’s not your fault that seniors shuffling around can drive you when the ground is firm. With 3-woods. But playing as long par-3’s proved disastrous for pace of play.
Matt Fitzpatrick. At least you apologized in advance for admitting fast and firm golf is not your thing. But given how well you are playing right now, did you talk yourself out of a better week? Rory used to do the same thing too, and now look at him loving true links golf.
Portmarnock - There is still plenty of buzz about this fantastic links getting an Open, but Martin Slumbers dashed those hopes speaking to Brian Keogh last week. “But are we considering it for The Open? No, not at this time."