In just a few days the British Open will tee off for the 146th time at Royal Birkdale on the North West Coast of England. The British Open is the oldest major in professional golf. Known for being played on golf courses with deep pot bunkers, double greens that undulate more than us weekend hacks can even imagine and tall fescue where the weather is likely to impact the outcome of the tournament. When the wind howls and the rain pours, Open Championship golf becomes more of a war of attrition than a golf tournament.
The last time the Open Championship was held at Royal Birkdale was in 2008. That week, Padraig Harrington capped off back-to-back Open Championship wins with a total score of +3. Fifth place carded a +10 total, so there is history of this course playing very difficult if the conditions allow for it.
Early weather forecasts for the week call for slight chances of rain on Friday, Saturday and Sunday with wind in the teens for the weekend. Not exactly daunting for the world’s best. In my usual fashion, I’ll hope for the weather to pick up a little and torture the field as much as possible. Major championship golf isn’t fun when the winner is double digits under par. It just doesn’t seem hard enough.
From a viewing standpoint, the Open Championship is most fun to watch when the wind is blowing hard enough to make the participants have to change the way they approach the greens with their second and third shots. You grow an appreciation for the class of shot makers these professionals really are when they intentionally run a shot up onto the green from 150 yards to within fifteen feet of the hole.
In Europe, golf is played much more on the ground than it is in the United States. Here, we play golf courses that ask us to hit the ball as high and as far as our games will allow us. Across the pond, course design and weather dictates more heavily the type of shots you are able to play. For this, most European players are accustomed to playing golf with more of a ground game by running pitch and punch shots onto the putting service rather than flying the ball to the hole. If the wind picks up, players will be forced to keep the ball low and play shots into greens that hardly leave the ground.
My favorite part of the Open Championship isn’t even the golf. Nope. It’s the time the coverage begins on television. Since the Open Championship is played across the pond, we get to watch it in the wee hours of the morning. Like, 1:30 a.m. wee. Yep, that’s right, coverage starts Thursday on Golf Channel at 1:30 a.m. I’ve always set my alarm earlier than normal during the Open so I can make breakfast, have some coffee and enjoy watching a major championship before work begins. I know, I’m a golf nerd and I’m definitely in the minority here, but there’s something nice about waking up to the oldest major in golf. For me, it’s like waking up to Wimbledon, but way better.
The only viewing pleasure better than golf before work is primetime golf that we get to enjoy when the U.S. Open is played on the West Coast and coverage bleeds into the dark hours of the evening. Nothing better.
Who Ya Got?
I’m having a hard time making an educated guess here for the “Champion Golfer of the Year” (the winner of the British Open). In the 36 majors since Tiger’s last major championship there have been 28 different winners, including 23 first-time major winners. Kind of makes you want to pick someone without a major title to their name. If you wanted to pick the best European player without a major to win the Open, a lot of folks would look at Lee Westwood, who has had a lot of close calls in majors and whose name always pops up as the next player to breakthrough his major drought.
When picking your winner, Open Championship history tells you to look towards players who are older. Only two winners since 2007 have been under the age of 32, Rory McIlroy (25) and Louis Oosthuizen (27). As far as the four majors each year goes, the winners of the Open Championship are, on average, the oldest.
The main reason I struggle to predict the winner is that I’m not that confident in the play of the big names right now. Rory McIlroy just missed his third cut in his last four starts. Dustin Johnson missed the cut at the U.S. Open, which was a venue many thought he would play well at. Sergio Garcia, still riding high from his Masters win finished second a few weeks ago in a European Tour event. I just don’t see him winning two majors in one year when it took him so long to get his first. Jason Day has been MIA and Jordan Spieth hasn’t been a factor enough in Open Championships yet.
Which leads me to my pick. I’ll take a guy to get his first major win this week. Rickie Fowler. Rickie just finished tied for 9th at the Scottish Open. Many American players play the Scottish Open the week before the British Open as a last prep before the event. Rickie is having the best season of his career from a statistical standpoint and has the ability to play the types of shots that are required to win the Open.
So, set those alarms for as early as possible, or don’t go to bed at all and enjoy some golf with your morning coffee.
Take A Walk Down Memory Lane With Me
A lot has changed in professional golf since the last time the Open Championship was played at Royal Birkdale in 2008. The last major Tiger Woods won was in 2008 when he beat Rocco Mediate at the U.S. Open on a broken leg in an 18-hole playoff. That win gave him 14 career majors putting him four majors back of tying Jack Nicklaus’ all-time record of 18. Thinking back, it was almost a certainty that Tiger would go on to eclipse Jack’s record and probably add to it, putting the all-time major record out of reach for everyone.
Oh how the mighty have fallen. Just a month ago, video surfaced of Tiger during a DUI arrest hardly knowing what planet he was on he was so high off prescription drugs. Since then, he sought help to “manage my medications and the ways I deal with back pain and sleep disorder”, according to Tiger. It’s hard to believe that Tiger has fallen so far off since winning his last major in 2008.
Perhaps this week, with the Open Championship returning to Royal Birkdale, the site of the last major played after Tiger won his 14th that we’ve come full circle on the Tiger Woods story. Some say he’ll never play again and that he should retire, others hope that he gets his life and game in shape to make one last run at Jack’s record.
It’s anyone’s guess where Tiger’s mental state lies as he contemplates his next move, but this is certain. We’re nearing 10 years since the last time Tiger Woods won a major. For a man that is in his golfing prime from an age standpoint, he’s probably no more sure than any of us that he’ll ever play again, let alone contend for his 15th major.