14 Jul 2021 | Professional golf | Feature stories |

Clayton: Embrace the fickle hand of fate

by Mike Clayton

Royal St George's image
Royal St George's in its pomp for this week's Open. Photo: Getty

Royal St George’s, far down on the south coast of England, might be the most maligned course on the Open rota but for no good reason. By now, everyone with more than a passing interest in tour golf understands the vast majority of players crave consistency, predictability and fairness and St George’s reputation is largely born of the negativity golf pros have toward the quirks of the course. It’s entirely unsurprising. Who wants to cost themselves a $2 million prize because of a bad bounce, or perhaps worse, the fortunate one of a competitor? St George’s is anything but predictable or “fair” if we are using the definition most would ascribe to it, which is basically ‘give me anything but something unexpected’. There will be plenty of odd bounces this week. It’s mid-summer and the wonderfully crumpled fairways are filled with the traditional humps and hollows of golf by the sea. Its land man hasn’t tried to improve by removing the very thing making it so compelling and interesting. And it’s unfair. Having said that, The Maiden, a wild par three played blind over the biggest dune on the course was removed maybe 80 years ago because it was thought to be beyond the pale. The other great unpredictability of The Open is the weather and the draw. You can play early on as Louis Oosthuizen did at St Andrews in 2010 (and Tony Lema in 1964) and be done by the time the wind starts to blow. Conversely the final tee time is after 4pm and many times those who tee off five full hours after the 6.35 guys finish can play the last nine in perfect evening calm. And then go to dinner at 19 o’clock - or in the case of bubble-world, have room service. The other thing golf obsesses about way too much is par, either the par of a hole or the par of a course. This week, the great fourth hole, a long two-shotter just under 500 yards, plays down to the far boundary and with one of the game’s most envied houses close enough to the back of the green the players could take cups of tea from the lucky owners. It will no doubt be judged to be the hardest hole on the course. Well, it probably is if the par is measure, but call it a par five and most would think the exact same hole the ‘easiest’ on the course. Either way, it’s one of golf’s great holes with the huge drive bunker embedded into the dune, a wild fairway and green with a massive false front. A five may be a bogey but it won’t mean dropping a full shot to the field and how many of golf’s best holes are ‘half-par’ holes? St George’s likely too has the scariest tee shot in golf. Playing down a boundary line unprotected by trees is almost unknown in Australia (Port Fairy’s 17th is one example I can think of) but it’s common on the British links and the boundary off the 14th is defined by a low wire fence running the length of the hole. There is barely any rough to stop the running ball from wandering onto the wrong side of the line as Bernard Langer’s ball did in 1993 when he was duelling playing partner Greg Norman and Nick Faldo for the title. This was Norman’s greatest day and playing second after a playing partner has hit one OB is no fun, but Greg ripped one of his patented drives far down the fairway, when he would have been well excused for whipping one far to the left and hoping for a decent lie in the rough. Norman was around in 64 on a day when Faldo went out with the lead, shot 67 and lost. It might suggest the course is easy, but all links are easy when the wind is down. If they are not, then they’d be all but unplayable in any decent wind. Australian’s have had a great run of it this past few weeks with Cameron Davis, Lucas Herbert, Min Woo Lee all winning big tournaments. Davis isn’t playing because of green card bureaucracy but the usual suspects, Jason Day, Matt Jones, Marc Leishman, Adam Scott and Cameron Smith are far from without hope. They need a decent break with the weather, an understanding of the course and perhaps just a touch over fifty-fifty in the good bounce stakes and some Ash Barty inspiration. One of them winning here would make for a heck of a summer.

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