Wednesday At The Open: Everything Has Led To This!
The 150th arrives with a strong R&A stance on LIV Golf. A tad less so on distance regulation and The Old Course. Plus, some fantastic player comments and a Road hole what-to-look for preview.
The fescue has shifted from brown to a glorious golden hue. The greens are catching up to the fairway firmness. And seated in her 7 Links Road upstairs window taking in a brilliant Wednesday evening, Old Tom Morris’s great-great granddaughter captured the crispy setup best.
“It’s going to separate the sheep from the goats,” Sheila Walker said before gracefully lowering her window and calling it a night.
The 150th Open at St Andrews has arrived.
The 30th playing over the Old Course could not be more ideally positioned as the players have wrapped the preparation effort and now face a baked and treacherous Old Course.
Some of Wednesday’s highlights:
The Met Office says Wednesday’s winds will give way to a calm first round morning, followed by a breezy afternoon.
On paper, the early-late times are at a disadvantage but we’ll only settle questions of draw after 36-holes.
It was LIVely day for news when the R&A took a strong stand against the Saudi golf league, terrorism and ghoulish behavior but not Saudi Arabia.
R&A Chief Martin Slumbers made clear distance regulation is not inspired by keeping the Old Course relevant.
Players, caddies and coaches said the greens are firming and changing color. Slumbers noted that the surfaces had been “held back” in hopes of keeping them manageable as tournament conditions set-in.
Scottie Scheffler said, “full disclosure”—with a goofy laugh— that he has no idea how to play the 13th hole. Players driving over the Coffins are not able to keep the ball in the fairway, bounding into the rough and giving new meaning to Hole ‘O Cross. Or worse, conservative plays are finishing in the Cat’s Trap and Walkinshaw. Not places you want to be.
For a fourth day in-a-row, the Curry and Fennel Sausage rolls found few media center takers. The kitchen staff has pushed forward and did offer a substantial lasagna on Wednesday.
Greens were single cut at 3.5 mm Wednesday. Speed was 10.1—the same as yesterday. Green firmness is 148 gravities - 11 gravities firmer than yesterday. Well placed sources say some fairways hit 170 gravities. I have no idea what this means except that it’s very, very firm.
Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Paul Lawrie have accepted invitations to become Honorary Members of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews. Which, to be clear, is not the R&A running the championship. Nonetheless, the R&A announced this gesture by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews. You know, neighborly courtesy and all that.
The Champions group photo was released. Of note, Nick Faldo and Tom Watson seated next to each other (Tom just married Nick’s ex GF), the millenial casual (Morikawa, Spieth), Bill Rogers making the journey (third from the right) and Sandy Lyle’s kilt.
Before we get to today’s roundup of Slumbers comments, player quotes and a Road hole preview, your key links for Thursday’s 150th Open first round:
Slumbers Takes Hard Line On LIV
Martin Slumbers opened the R&A media conference by making a strong statement against the Saudi-backed LIV Golf League and doubled down under relentless and eventually, tedious, questioning.
“I firmly believe that the existing golf ecosystem has successfully provided stable pathways for golfers to enter the sport and develop and realize their full potential,” he said in prepared remarks delivered without any other committee members present.
“Professional golfers are entitled to choose where they want to play and to accept the prize money that's offered to them. I have absolutely no issue with that at all. But there is no such thing as a free lunch. I believe the model we've seen at Centurion and Pumpkin Ridge is not in the best long-term interests of the sport as a whole and is entirely driven by money. We believe it undermines the merit-based culture and the spirit of open competition that makes golf so special.”
Slumbers also sounded genuinely offended by “grow the game” references and made clear—bless him—that pro golf is not the game, the 70 million or so golfers and the courses they play are.
“I would also like to say that in my opinion the continued commentary that this is about growing the game is just not credible and if anything, is harming the perception of our sport which we are working so hard to improve. I have often talked about the 99 percent who play golf for love. And I believe that the vast majority of the 70 million-plus golfers do so because of the values of golf, which to me are integrity, personal responsibility, and respect.”
Under questioning, Slumbers suggested the R&A will review qualification and that led to some spirited moments over standards and the Official World Golf Ranking.
“And when we will look at exemptions and qualifications, we will do so in the context of what is going on in the men's professional game, how is the men's professional game being structured, and how do we create the right balance of exemptions and qualifications to enable the best players in the world to be teeing it up next year at Hoylake.”
There was plenty more but this is a newsletter about the majors and I’m getting sleepy just thinking about the First World dreariness of it all. I did enjoy this on Greg Norman’s non-invite this year out of fear the Shirtless one would
“Greg hasn't been here since 2010. He didn't come in 2015. In fact, it's many years since he's even been to The Open. So there would have been another reason for that.”
I’ll deal with the golf course matters below. Other topics:
On UK pay television and the decreased reach of The Open compared to the BBC years: “I don't think that just pure free to air is as important as it was 25 years ago, and actually I'm very happy with the balance we have. I think our Open is being covered brilliantly. We get an enormous amount more coverage, and I think we're in a really good place.”
On golf getting in bed with Saudi Arabia: “Let me be very clear: Abuses of human rights, acts of terrorism cannot be condoned in my mind in any shape or form. They're abhorrent and unacceptable. I totally understand why you're asking the question, but I'm very clear on that part of it. But for us, I'm looking at it in terms of the broader picture about how the game grows and how many of the positive things that are happening in golf.”
On the possibility of a low score this week: “59 is 13-under par around this golf course. There's 7,300 yards. It's got greens that are running at 10 1/2 to 11. It's got fairways where the ball is bouncing 50 yards if it's hit and more if it catches the downslope. 13-under par around that, I'll tell you what, if someone shoots that, I will be the first person on the 18th green to shake their hand because they have played outstanding golf.”
On getting into a purse-raising race after this week’s 22% increase announcement. “What I'm concerned about on purse growth is that The R&A's responsibility is much broader than just a purse in the championship. And I spend a lot of time trying to balance up how do I make enough revenues to be able to move with the times on how the sport's growing and also continue to invest and increase the investment into amateur golf, the AIG Women's Open, bringing up equality of pay, and being able to balance all of those is an increasing challenge.”
Slumbers On The Old Course And The Distance Review
I probably should have asked the distance question more artfully Wednesday but I was numbed by LIVanity. Next time I’ll invoke Peter Thomson’s line about how, “The Old Course is, and must remain forever, the true golf.” Oh well. The exchange:
Q. Martin, on the much lighter topic of distance, could you give us some feedback at least on what you've gotten from messaging from the manufacturers at this point? And how much does The Old Course and the way it plays this week influence The R&A's position and thinking on the topic?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: I thought you might bring that up. So, you know, we have published the area of interest. This is a very technical process we're in, that some may be familiar with and some aren't familiar with. And in that area of interest, we've laid out the areas to do with the golf ball and to do with the driver that we are now interested in.
More importantly, as you've picked up in many of your articles, it's the interests that we're interested in pursuing. I always said we wanted to work this through in a collaborative and broad dialogue with all stakeholders, of which equipment manufacturers are just one piece of that. And we are working through that. And I have to admit that has been a very good, challenging, thoughtful, intellectually stimulating series of discussions.
I think I've said before, this is a serious time on a serious problem, and it needs serious discourse. And I think we're definitely getting that.
We will receive in September, which is when the period for the area of interest closes -- I think we are very clear in the area of interest what we're interested in. And we will then take some time to review, analyze, consider the feedback we get, and then we'll move to the next stage.
Q. The impact this week of just kind of how the course plays, is that any part of the thinking?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: I'm not sure how many times I can say it. We're agnostic on one golf course. We're not building equipment regulation for the oldest golf course in the world. We're trying to build equipment regulation for our sport.
There's lots of other courses that could be categorized that way -- this is not about the Old Course.
Technically they’re playing five courses this week when it should just be The One.
Scottie Scheffler on the Road hole. “It's pretty funny. You hit over the hotel, and then the green, like it is so small. Then I went down and fooled around in the bunker a bit yesterday. I'm definitely going to do everything in my power to not go in that bunker. It's so bad down there. But it's really cool. It's such a fun hole to play.”
Scheffler on the tall task for loopers. “I would hate to be a caddie this week. It would be so hard. Whatever it is, when the wind gets to blowing like it is now -- and off these fairways, I don't think people realize the ball actually spins a little bit more off this grass than it does in the States. So when we're hitting into a 15-mile-an-hour wind, it affects the ball more than it does at home, and it's blowing harder. So it's totally different than what we're used to.”
Cameron Smith on the Old Course. “There's so many options. I've been hitting every club, it seems like, in the bag, from 30, 40 yards in, and just really seeing what happens, getting used to the conditions. I think the wind plays a big factor even when you're trying to hit along the ground here. So just getting used to the conditions and trying to be creative is, I think, been the theory the last few days.”
Smith on the golf here. “Links golf is trying to hit the perfect shot and hoping for the best. You are going to get yourself into some ugly spots. You've just got to be ready for it. You've got to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”
Robert MacIntyre on TOC: “We've played it in Dunhill and stuff, and I thought The Old Course was relatively flat. This week I'm seeing slopes and the ball moving that I never thought was possible. But it's the way The Old Course was designed to be played.”
MacIntyre on TOC Part II: “If you start bailing out, if you start playing safe away from the bunkers, which the majority of people are going to do, then it leaves a horrible angle. That's the way it's been designed. The tighter line you take, the more risk, but the better reward.”
MacIntyre on playing The Open in his home country: “When I was driving in on Sunday, that's the first time I've ever had goose bumps coming to St Andrews. I always drove into town, and it's like, oh, we're in St Andrews. But when I came in from above the town and I had the music on, and I actually had goose bumps. I was like, wow, this is just -- this is different. This is what, as I said at the start, if I was ever to play just one Open Championship, it would have been here.”
Road Hole Dynamics To Watch For
The players have lavished all kinds of respect for the Road hole. So we’ll check back with them around Thursday afternoon when the cruelest par-4 in championship inflicts its misery. Two big things I’m looking at this week:
Does the roped-off rough reduce the temptation to play for the green and therefore bring the Road in play less?
Could the Road bunker’s forced evolution backfire with new player tactics?
I’ve noted ad nauseum how the rough harvest off 17 fairway will likely, (A) stop balls from running to a worse angle of approach down the left, and, (B) take decisions out of play by forcing players to pitch out to the front of the green.
All of this reduces the possibility of bringing the road into play.
“If you hit it into that left rough, it sort of takes all your options away,” Rory McIlroy said. “You've just got to hit it to the front right and then try to make your two-putts from there. The tee shoot is key, and like I said, just trusting you've got a little more room on that right side.”
Another dynamic involves the odd evolution of the Road hole bunker and surrounds.
“I remember, it's kind of funny when I look back at some of the historic videos of the guys playing out of the Road Hole bunker, and it really wasn't that deep,” said Tiger Woods. “Now you can't see the grandstands when you get in there. All you see is clear, blue sky.”
About ten years ago a strange berm was created to funnel more balls to the sand. It’s artificial and unnecessary. This berm sits higher than the bunker top, making it look wildly unnatural.
Which begs the obvious question: why not just expand the bunker a bit, reduce the build-up a shade?
And the view if you miss short left:
Several players and caddies have been whispering that the green cut might have been slightly expanded to accommodate another back left hole. Perhaps even one cut left of the Road bunker.
Based on the way players have been practicing shots Sunday, many are planning for the possibility or have just decided this area is a better spot to avoid the bunker and berm.
I walked off the green as 54 paces deep compared to 51 from my 2015 yardage book. That’s a wildly unscientific effort and could be accounted for by merely a couple of mower passes at the front and rear.
If the player can get to this far left spot pictured below and beyond the berm, they’ll have an easy pitch. Bobby Jones and others have played the hole this way in the past.
One thing is certain: the Road hole should rank as the toughest statistically. Since records have been kept:
The 150th has already been all I could hope for and there is little reason to expect anything other than a brilliant four days.
Far and sure!
PS - just a reminder this is free Thursday on a Wednesday, so for full, uninterrupted coverage the next few days come on aboard The Quad!
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