20 Jul 2023 | Professional golf |

The Open: Hoylake's big challenge for the players

by Golf Australia

Cam Smith Open 23 image
Cameron Smith is confident after recent good form. Photo: R&A Media

By Richard Allen*

For reasons mostly lost in the sands of time the golf course that will host this year’s Open Championship, Royal Liverpool on the Lancashire coast – known also as Hoylake – disappeared from the Open rota in 1967 and remained in the wilderness for 39 years.

When the Open returned to Hoylake in 2006 Tiger Woods put on a masterclass, shooting 18-under par on a dry, running course to win by two shots over his compatriot, Chris DiMarco. Eight years later the Open returned again, Irishman Rory McIlroy winning by two shots over Rickie Fowler and Sergio Garcia. Both events were hugely successful, and Hoylake locked itself back in the Open Championship fold.

The Open returns to Hoylake this week, and the world’s best golfers will gather for 2023’s final major championship, their last chance this year for golfing immortality.

McIlroy is desperate to win another Open at Hoylake. It is hard to believe that nine years have passed since he last won the last of his four major championships (the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Kentucky). Since then, McIlroy has recorded 19 top-10 finishes in majors, including six in the past two years, highlighting both his skill and consistency.

His driving and long-iron play is the best in the world; it is his putting that it the problem. Notably, he took 36 putts – too many – in the final rounds of both last year’s Open Championship at St Andrews, won by Australian Cameron Smith, and at this year’s US Open at Los Angeles Country Club. He finished third and second respectively.

Defending champion Smith, too, will fancy his chances at Hoylake. In the three majors he has played since he won the Open he has finished tied 34th (US Masters), tied ninth (US PGA Championship) and fourth (US Open), so he is trending well.

The hard and bouncy British courses suit his inventiveness and sharp short game, which he amply demonstrated at last year’s Open.

Other players in the world top 10 cannot be discounted, including Spain’s Jon Rahm and American Scottie Scheffler. The current world top 10 is like the United Nations of golf: five Americans, an Irishman, a Spaniard, a Norwegian, an Australian and an Englishman.

Hoylake is older than all but one of the English seaside golf courses (Westward Ho!, founded in 1864, is five years older) and has a roll call of great Open winners, including Arnaud Massey (the only Frenchman ever to have won), JH Taylor, Walter Hagen, the great American amateur Bobby Jones, and Argentine Roberto De Vicenzo. Australian Peter Thomson won the Open at Hoylake in 1956; it was his third Open win in a row, and he was only 26.

Jones’ two-shot victory in 1930 was the most meaningful and historic victory. It followed his win in the British Amateur at St Andrews, so represented the second leg of his unique Grand Slam (the Open and Amateur championships of both USA and Britain in the same year).

Hoylake has always had great links with the amateur game. The club’s greatest son was John Ball, who won the British Amateur eight times, another record that will surely never be broken. In 1890 he was the first Englishman, and the first amateur, to win the Open Championship. Harold Hilton was another Hoylake member; he won four British Amateurs, one US Amateur and two Open championships, 1892 and 1897.

The course, laid out in a giant triangle of land, runs alongside the Irish Sea with the hills of Wales in the distance to the South-West. It is notable for its tightness off the tee.

The champion will be the player who best keeps out of trouble, has a smidgin of luck, and putts the lights out.

-- First published in the Australian Financial Review. Richard Allen is a journalist, author and Golf Australia board member

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