ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia Tournaments Manager Graeme ‘Scotty’ Scott makes his first trip to Ireland for The 148th Open where wild weather, slow play, and a record-breaking back-9 from Ryan Fox highlighted a hectic week.
The 148th Open Championship – pre-tournament
Having been born in Scotland and brought up playing golf on the fifth oldest golf course in the world, it is hardly surprising that links golf is my favourite form of the game. With sand dunes naturally shaping the course and the salty sea air taking your ball flight on a journey that you seem to have no control over, links golf requires the player to have a full range of shots in their repertoire to cope with the variety of lies that you will undoubtedly face.
I have been fortunate enough to officiate at five Open Championships in the past, so to be given the opportunity to represent the PGA of Australia at the 148th Open on its return to Ireland is indeed a great honour.
Arriving in Ireland for the first time on Monday afternoon, there was no time to relax as I dashed to Royal Portrush to collect my uniform for the week and familiarise myself with the venue layout. The infrastructure that goes into an Open Championship is massive and a huge amount of planning has to go into designing the site plan years in advance.
In the case of Royal Portrush, two new holes were introduced three years ago to allow the former 17th and 18th holes to be utilised for the tournament village and the significant structures that go along with it. Holes 7 and 8 were crafted from the natural sand dunes and blended in beautifully with the existing layout.
Tuesday morning arrived and it was time to meet and greet all of my friends and colleagues from the various Tours and Golf Associations around the world. I then headed out on my first course walk to survey the layout and look at any potential Rules issues that may arise during the Championship. My companion for the walk was Dave Mangan from NZ Golf, who had already taken a trip around the course the day before and was able to give me a heads up on several things that he had spotted.
Right from the first tee it was clear that course management and accuracy was going to be the key. The coastal wind had already switched direction from the day before meaning that players were going to have to adapt to changing conditions as the week progressed. The first hole has out of bounds down both sides and, although the chunky, juicy rough would prevent a ball from rolling over the white lines, the nerves on the first tee along with relative narrowness of the hole would undoubtedly result in a number of reloads.
The members at Royal Portrush have been playing off plastic mats for the last year to save the fairways and the result is an outstanding playing surface for the Championship. The positioning of the temporary structures on the course is extremely well planned with each of the grandstands and viewing platforms well back out of general play and this prevented many rulings from arising in terms of TIO relief.
The course shows similarities to Royal Birkdale in my opinion, with fairways that are bounded by natural sand dunes and several of the greens being tucked in amongst them providing a great deal of natural protection.
The fifth hole is a reasonably short par-4 that many players will take on from the tee. The big danger is that immediately behind the green is an out of bounds ditch which collects balls before they can tumble down onto the sandy beach below.
From a Rules perspective, Australian golfers who watch the telecast may see that the stakes that sit in the ditch behind the fifth green are white with black tops. Such stakes identify that the ditch is out of bounds but the stakes do not define the margin. They are in fact movable obstructions that may be removed by a player if they interfere with their area of intended swing. Australia is actually the only country in the world (that I am aware of) that have black topped stakes to define out of bounds. The R&A recommendation is that out of bounds stakes are white, with those identifying out of bounds in a ditch, such as at the 5th, have black tops to show that they do not define the margin.
While there are several birdie holes on the course, the stretch from 14 through to 16 is very tight and the wheels could fall off several rounds at that point. A straight tee shot on 14 is imperative as the driving zone is tight and the green is difficult to hit in the right place. The drive on 15 needs to be taken over the left rough so as not to finish too far right and then once again, choosing your landing area on the well-designed green is crucial.
Hole 16 is a par-3 but really plays a 3 ½. Playing 230 yards uphill there is a good reason that the hole is named “Calamity”.
Walking down the final fairway of an Open course is always an unforgettable experience. The amphitheatre created by the horseshoe of massive grandstands is incredible and it is not hard to see why it has an emotional effect on many players.
Wednesday morning was an early start as the Rules meeting began at 8.00am. At this meeting time is spent going over particular issues that may arise and to ensure that a consistent approach is applied by all referees to given situations.
After the meeting, which takes a little over 2 hours, all officials conduct a further course walk in groups of six or seven to both review each hole and provide any feedback to R&A staff in regard to possible Local Rule changes. An example of this is how officials should treat the temporary bridge that crosses the red penalty area short and right of green 12. Initially the bridge had been deemed to be a Temporary Immovable Obstruction but, after considering the possible problems that this may cause if a player’s ball came to rest on the bridge, the R&A were asked to reconsider its status for the tournament and it was changed to an Immovable Obstruction.
The 148th Open Championship – Rounds 1 & 2
We are given our assignments for round one and two early in the week and I was delighted to see that I would walk with Ryan Fox on Thursday and Podraig Harrington on Friday. I have known Foxy for a long time and I was keen to see how his game had progressed since his win at the ISPS HANDA World Super 6 Perth earlier this year.
Ryan had been struggling confidence-wise in recent weeks and when he three-putted the opening hole his body language said, “Here we go again!” Two further bogies on the front-9 saw him turn at +3 and there wasn’t a great deal of spring in his step. However, what transpired over the back-9 was fantastic to watch and will hopefully help him take a confident approach into the back end of the season.
The action all started on the par-5, 12th where he finally holed a 4-metre birdie putt. This gave him the honour and he promptly dropped a short iron close to the flag on 13 to set up birdie number two. Hole 14 has a tricky upside-down saucer green but that really counts for nothing when you stump your second shot. Three birdies in a row and he was then back to even-par.
A well-positioned tee shot and approach left him a 5-metre putt on 15 and this was duly dispatched in true Foxy style to take him into red figures for the first time. The relaxed gait and chatty persona was back by this stage with both Foxy and caddie Jordan Dassler taking every opportunity to throw in some good banter as we walked round.
Foxy missed the green short and right on “Calamity” but made a great up and down to stay in the red but then a beautiful approach shot on 17 left him a relatively short putt for another birdie. To put the icing on the top of a great back-9, the 4-metre putt to the back right pin on 18 disappeared down the hole for a closing birdie 3 and an inward 9 of 29, a record for The Open Championship.
Friday’s round saw me joining Harrington, Matt Fitzpatrick and Andrew Putnam. This was a fairly uneventful round other than the frustration that a couple of the players expressed at the pace of play. Although one member of the group was very slow, the group maintained its position in the field so there was little that could be done.
The 148th Open Championship – Rounds 3 & 4
Late on Friday night we received our assignments for Saturday, with the cut having been made at close of play. My role for round three was to be observer for the 3rd to final group which featured “the baby-faced assassin”, Cameron Smith. It is always nice to catch up with Cam and his caddie Sam, both of whom I have known for many years. As an official we don’t generally interact with the players during a round and so it is more when we are waiting to tee off and after score recording that we have a chance for a quick chat. Cam’s round was a bit of a rollercoaster as he traded birdies for bogies, failing to make any ground on the leaders.
For the final round I was paired with Ernie Els and Lucas Bjerregaard, who is a seriously good player and someone to watch out for in the future. Ernie dropped a couple of shots during the round but he still has the big easy swing that he is renowned for.
As I mentioned earlier, the positioning of the infrastructure on course was such that there were very few TIO rulings to be made during the week and, in the main, the majority of rulings were just the usual things that you would come across during a round.
We were on hole 16 when the final group, featuring Irishman Shane Lowry, teed off which meant that I was able to follow most of the action and avoid the heavy rain that poured for most of Sunday afternoon. The local fans were going berserk at the prospect of an Irish winner, particularly after the disappointment of seeing Rory fall just short of the cut mark after a disastrous opening hole and round on Thursday.
Having access to the grandstand left of 18 as the Championship came to a close meant that we had a bird’s eye view of the excitement and drama of the final hole. Thousands of fans raced towards the green after Lowry hit his approach shot and he was genuinely engulfed by them before the marshals could rope of the entry point to the green, finally allowing him to burst through the throng with his arms raised aloft.
This truly was a great Championship which broke all sorts of Open records. The course was fantastic, as was the support for the tournament which saw tickets sell out weeks in advance.
Given the reasonably late finishing time and the Committee dinner that followed, it was close to 11.00pm before our bus pulled up outside our hotel for the week. My taxi to the airport was booked for 3.00am and so it seemed like I had only just fallen asleep when it was time to get up again.
I am looking forward to arriving in Memphis for the WGC FedEx St Jude Invitational, where I will join PGA TOUR and European Tour staff for the week. Hopefully I will have more of a chance to catch up with our other international players that I didn’t get to see at Portrush.
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