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Clayton: Grace's 62 no better than the rest

Branden Grace
Branden Grace acknowledges the crowd on 18 after shooting 62.

On the opening day of the 1980 US Open Jack Nicklaus stood over a three foot putt for a 62 on Baltusrol’s final green. Surely the greatest player would lower Johnny Miller’s 1973 major championship record set seven years earlier at Oakmont. As much as people now joke about Miller’s obsession with reminding everyone about how great his round was, it was probably the greatest round ever. Hitting all 18 greens, shooting 63 to win the US Open by one shot is a pretty awesome accomplishment.

Nicklaus missed and for almost forty years there has been a lid on the hole when 62 beckoned.

In 1986 Nick Price properly horseshoed a twenty footer on the final green at Augusta for a 62 and then only three months later Greg Norman three putted the 18th at Turnberry.

Last year, on the 54th green Phil Mickelson’s lip out wasn’t quite as brutal as Price’s but any reasonable man could have expected it to go in.

For the longest time it looked as though the game wasn’t going to have anyone do a 62, or heaven forbid something even lower.

On Saturday an utterly defenseless Royal Birkdale succumbed to Branden Grace and what was probably inevitable given the state of the modern ball. The South African’s 62 was one fewer under par than Justin Thomas’ 63 last month at Erin Hills but nonetheless it was 62 and it was a brilliant round.

Comparing these extraordinarily low rounds and suggesting one man’s 62 is better than all the rest because it’s a lower score is silly because context is everything. As Nicklaus himself once said at an Open decades ago, ‘the conditions establish the par.’

This day at Birkdale there was no wind. The greens were receptive and many would describe them as ‘slow’.

Maybe they were by modern standards of courses away from the sea but any quicker and the cut, one of the highest of the year anywhere in the world, would have been even higher.

The links are necessarily quite easy when they are defenseless because make them hard in no wind and they are almost unplayable in any decent one. Only Carnoustie might qualify as a hard course on a really nice day.

What we saw though was the first ever day of Open Championship golf when 65s and 66s were a commonplace score. In days past they were scores you would write home to your mother about.

Scott Hend’s 65 would barely earn a one line email flicked home to say he’d moved up a few places and into the top half of the field.

Grace reached nine of the twelve par four holes with a nine iron or one of his wedges. Only at the 500 yard 6th, a green he hit with a three iron, did he have to play a long club to one of the par 4s and he was on the par fives at the end with a two and a three iron.

It will go down as a round of historic proportion but largely it’s a just a number. Norman’s 63 at Turnberry was a better round because both the conditions and the course were far more demanding. Bernhard Langer’s 69 in a gale as Royal St George’s in 1985 was an incredible round largely forgotten because we obsess with simple numbers.

62 when only two players were over 74 isn’t quite as good as a Norman’s 63 done on a day when 74 was a pretty decent score.

Those who run The Open know the assault on Birkdale is the result of equipment, which has completely distorted the relationship between equipment and course.

The courses in the era pre- steel shafts had the clear advantage and steel, allied with better golf balls evened the balance up somewhat and made it a fair fight.

This current generation of players, technically the finest as a group the game has seen, have grown up in an era of extraordinary invention and now unless the dimensions of the courses are utterly distorted the balance is far and away in favour of the player and the inventors.

They move tees back as far as they can go but even on the 8000 yard course we saw at the U.S Open the winner played one round where he hit nothing more than a seven iron into a par 4.

In their day Alister MacKenzie and Bobby Jones were writing about, and building, courses where at least a couple of the long 4s were to be tests of wooden club approach play.

What they would make of holes over six hundred yards being easily reached with irons one can only guess but you can bet they’d be more than writing home about it. They’d be lobbying the organizers to do something about it.



The Emirates Australian Open gets under way on the 23rd of November. Head to www.golf.org.au/ausopen for news, live scores, video, Genesis AO Radio and more.

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