19 Jul 2023 | Professional golf |

Clayton: The Open goes green

by Mike Clayton

Royal Liverpool 17th hole image
The new 17th at Royal Liverpool, where you could almost throw a ball on to the green. Photo: Getty

Links golf at its best is fiery and the locals around Royal Liverpool had hoped for a fast-running course resembling the one Tiger Woods conquered in 2006. Earlier in the summer the locals were enduring, or perhaps even enjoying, uncommonly warm weather burnt the Hoylake links brown. But rain in the past month has the course green, softer than it otherwise might have been, and perhaps less interesting for the Open Championship this week. Hoylake is at first sight a less-than-enchanting links. The opening nine this week begins with two holes the members play as the 17th and 18th and one of the great sadnesses of Hoylake was the probably inevitable loss of the original 17th green, hard-up against the red brick wall separating the green from the suburban road beyond. The members’ opening hole, playing as the third this week, is a hard dogleg to the right around the practice fairway defined by a metre-high mound all the way from tee to green. It’s not an attractive hole in any way but it’s scary because anything on the other side of the ridge is out of bounds. Hedging to the left is wise but it leaves a second shot longer than it might have been and the boundary line of essentially on the edge of the green. The nine eventually plays its way out to the interesting ground at the far end of the course and there is a brilliant run of holes through the dunes until the final quartet of holes back into the flatter ground. The back nine is the longest of any on the Open rota but the most controversial hole is the new par three 17th which looks short enough to almost throw the ball onto the green. It’s a small green and high enough in the air to obscure the surface of the green from the tee. The false edge at the front feeds anything short back into the front bunker and anything marginally to the right tips down and into a bunker half-way down the hill. More penal again is flying long and into the sandy wasteland where finding a decent lie is a matter of some good fortune. On a benign day it’s not such a difficult question but in any sort of wind it’s a brutally dangerous shot and not one unlike the short seventh hole at Barnbougle Dunes. The green is probably marginally bigger at Hoylake and the penalty for missing short, right, or long are more severe. Like Barnbougle’s seventh, it’s a one-dimensional hole and no matter the position of the pin the vast majority will aim at the middle and hope they get line and length exactly right. The fascination, for me at least, is the Rory McIlroy quest to add to his major championship tally and it’s beyond imagining a man of his talents could have gone almost a decade since his last win in one of the four most significant events. His shot into the final green at the Scottish Open with a long iron was pure class and evidence of skills a level above the norm. It also highlighted the thrill of a time long ago when hitting a long iron into a par-4 green was an expected and regular part of the test. The defending champion Cameron Smith, the fifth Australian to win the Open, won a couple of weeks ago in London and his play so far this year has been particularly good as has Scottie Scheffler, who is by some way the best tee-to-green player on the tour this year. If the Queenslander putted for Scheffler, he would almost win every week, but fortunately it doesn’t work that way. Extraordinary too is the size of the championship. Enormous stands and corporate hospitality buildings cover the parts of the course free of golf holes and it’s a pity in a way, because the buildings block the long views across the golf course which are a beautiful part of playing the British links especially in the early evening light as the sun goes down. Of course, the sun may not come out all week and even if it does, it’ll be too late to give the locals their wish of a course shaded a little more brown than green.

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