Its (British) Open Championship week. Lots of previews and prognostications by golf writers, bloggers and media as to whether Tiger Woods will win. Lots of people predicting a flame-out for Rory McIlory or that Phil Mickelson’s FIVE wedges and no driver will get him his first Claret Jug. No need for me to post another nauseatingly repetitive preview. Instead, I’m chronicling my recent rounds on the golf course which has hosted more Open Championships than any other…
I have to admit that after my trip to St. Andrews in 2011, I thought the Old Course was not a terribly difficult golf course. I’d come into that trip hoping to break 80 (2-3 handicap) on the Old Course. Despite my nerves, I shot 80-77 my two rounds there, from the tips. I didn’t find the course to be overly difficult or long and felt like I lost a few shots to simply not having any experience in links style golf. I found one bunker in two rounds on the Old Course, hole #4, which led to a double bogey. The rough was manageable. I could hit even a longer iron from the rough and hit a green in regulation or get close enough to have putter in hand for the next shot.
There were tough holes like #11 (par-3) and the Road Hole. I was +4 on those two holes for the two rounds.
When I arrived in St. Andrews a couple of weeks ago I had thoughts of breaking my record on the Old, 77. I could do it if I didn’t make double on #4 or bogey #11 and/or I could make birdie on the easy 8th or 9th holes. It was definitely possible in my mind, shooting a round in the low 70’s.
My ball striking was better than it was two years ago coming into this trip. New, great irons, a new and longer driver. Solid putting as always. I thought my game, despite being one stroke higher in handicap index, could produce some magic on the Old.
I keep saying “I thought” or “had thoughts.” Yes those are all past tense. The Old Lady had other plans for me. I was about to learn a lesson. I was about to see a tougher side of the Old and it would expose parts of my game which I didn’t realize were as weak as they were. Perhaps it was just the mental part which was weak. Maybe it was just that the conditions were tough and I’m being a little hard on myself.
All of the above.
The conditions these two past rounds on the Old were far different than back in 2011. Yes the ground was still as hard as Interstate 15. Yes there were some new tweaks to the course, like the two new bunkers on hole #2 short right of the green. I did manage to test those bunkers out first hand. They’re penal.
The wind this time around was much stronger and on most holes was a cross wind. It was strong enough to force my driver sight lines some 40-50 yards from the intended area where the ball was to finish. That messed with my brain. A gag reflex in my normally solid driver swing ensued. On hole number one in 2011 I hit wedge into the green both times. With a very strong hurt-wind, I hit hybrid on day one and 5-iron on day two. That’s a little different than wedge. Hole one is short. Having to hit hybrid into that green is crazy!
All the “out” holes on the front were extremely tough with a that hard, hurting cross wind. In attempts to hit the ball low or draw it, I’d either smother them low left or hit a double-cross, giant ballooning slice which would be insanely magnified by the wind. Those shots looked like they’d blow all the way to Carnoustie. Needless to say my fine caddie and friend John Boyne had his work cut out for him just finding my tee shots. We found all but one. The ones we did find though, were more often than not in bad situations like bunkers, sides of dunes or in the hellishly long rough.
More on the rough.
The Old Course is the host of the 2013 Women’s British Open Championship, coming up a couple of weeks after the trip. The course was already transforming into “championship” form and the rough was waist deep in some places. They were already putting up the fencing and grandstands.
The rough was extremely difficult, not manageable like 2011. On the 2nd round for example, I made it into the rough left of the Road Hole. I took out my sand wedge and attempted to blast it out to the fairway. Three mighty lashes later my ball was out. The first mighty lash advanced my ball about one foot. It was a fine shot. The ball went nice and straight. If those ladies in the Women’s Open find that rough they’ll be in trouble.
Many holes during those two rounds had similar stories. Missed fairways led to deep rough or those very difficult bunkers. Hitting either one meant a guaranteed bogey or worse.
There were many “bogey or worse” situations.
I became a bit beaten down by the conditions and my score. The Lady sensed my lack of respect the last couple of years and took it to me. I resolved myself to simply enjoy the moment of playing the Old Course, and not worrying about the number on the scorecard or the level of my play. That helped. I tried to enjoy each shot as best I could, whether it was my solid tee shot on the par-3 8th the 2nd day, which I had to play 20-30 yards right of the green due to the wind, or my 8th shot (yes, 8th) on the Road Hole. That 8th shot was a perfectly executed running 9-iron from about 50 yards which ran up the false front and snuggled to about two feet from the pin. The one-putt capped off a “solid nine” on the Road Hole.
At least I finished in style. By the time I reached the 18th hole on the 2nd round, the wind was helping. It seemed like that was the first hole of the 36 where the wind didn’t hurt. My tee shot was far past Granny Clark’s Wynd, the road which dissects holes #1 and #18. I was almost to the Valley of Sin. I hit a less-than-stellar running 9-iron to about 25 feet, leaving me with a severely breaking putt from left to right, a back right pin.
I made the birdie putt.
9-3. Quintuple bogey-birdie. A fine finish on the Old. Only golf can produce such painfully joyous irony. The birdie on 18 was my 2nd birdie in four rounds on the Old, the other two rounds being par. On the positive side I’m -2 lifetime on the finishing hole of the most famous golf course in the world.
A Little Scared, or Scarred
I had a couple of opportunities, though unlikely, to take on the Old Lady again before the trip was over. I didn’t work it too hard, rather preferring to play somewhere else, which I did. I was a bit relieved. I realize that sounds completely ridiculous. Having the chance to play the Old Course and feeling relieved not to does sound crazy. I’d had enough though. The lovely Old Lady had proven her point. She sent me home with the two highest scores I’ve shot all season, on any course.
Even more nutty is to consider that I paid thousands of dollars to fly to Scotland for such punishment.
I can’t wait to do it again.