Master the weather and you’ll master Hoylake
Readjusting to the changing conditions vital for British Open success
Ernie Els, watched by caddie Colin Byrne, hits an approach shot during his practice round yesterday prior to the 143rd British Open at Royal Liverpool in Hoylake. Photograph: Warren Little/R&A/R&A via Getty Images
The decisive factor in Martin Kaymer’s victory in the US Open at Pinehurst last month was he was able to adapt to the subtle changes the rain had made to the course for the first two rounds.
The German was aware the overnight precipitation before the first round had softened the course enough to warrant playing more aggressive iron shots to the greens. This is what yielded his record first two round total. The rest were still edging their way around the perilous greens as if the fiery practice round conditions were still prevailing.
Here we are at the 143rd British Open filled with memories of the parched tournament here eight years ago where the predominant colour of the course was that of baked dust. Tiger won by running his irons strategically around the course, leaving his driver as a prop on which to hang his towel.
This year Hoylake has a verdant appearance, much more yielding than you would expect for a summer links.
So as we all discovered the links as presented to us this week, the adjustments were being made for every golfer who has so little experience of links land as a modern professional.
Some who had played in the Scottish Open last week in the traditional Royal Aberdeen had been given a huge insight into the subtleties of a week’s worth of seaside golf in a tournament where a 200-yard shot may only need a wedge downwind and a 150-yarder into the wind may require a five-iron. Numbers, in the increasingly scientific approach to the professional game, were only a very rough indication of what club to hit.
Just as we had got our heads around how short or long a shot was playing, Sunday’s rainfall and misty conditions changed everything and we were back to playing a form of inland golf.
Serious contenderIt would be unwise not to factor this into choosing this year’s British Open champion and therefore give Justin Rose consideration as a serious contender for the title. He has had a week of adjusting and readjusting to the vagaries of golf in links land and obviously fared very well.
With my boss Ernie Els’s early start last Sunday in Aberdeen we had time to shoot an inspiring 66 and head immediately south-west to Liverpool to get a glimpse of Hoylake before the Open madness began. Well that was the idea.
On arrival in the almost colonial-style Royal Liverpool clubhouse late on Sunday afternoon it was like entering what you had expected to be a sedate Sunday gathering and being greeted with a raucous carnival atmosphere, with members and guests milling around the elegant clubhouse filled with expectation for the great golfing occasion that was about to kick off in their club.
The social end of it was already well under way.
There was a warm welcome for Ernie at the main entrance by members in blue blazers.
A photograph taken 27 years ago hanging in the members bar was a quick reminder of the twice British Open champion’s first visit to the Wirral when he was a fresh-faced, svelte 17-year-old winning the Tillman Trophy, the first of many international events. He too wore a blazer and a sheepish grin in celebration of his biggest achievement till then in his young golfing career.
There is such a sense of occasion for anyone with an awareness of the history of the game when they come to the British Open. We all have our memories jogged by faces we have not seen for at least a year and are unlikely to see again for another.
Familiar faceIt is the one time of the year you are happy as a caddie for your player to be a little late arriving as you linger around the entrance to the locker room by the main thoroughfare from the course to the exit wondering what familiar face is going to appear around the corner.
Players memories are also roused by the unique sense of belonging to a deep part of the game’s tradition. We played a practice round with Nick Faldo, as we did at Muirfield last year. He talked about completing his final round at Lytham in 1988 with Nick Price and Seve Ballesteros on the Monday after extensive rain delays.
He recalled his victories at Muirfield and St Andrews briefly but then got down to the business of preparation for this year’s event.
It was obvious he felt he had found something that could help him genuinely compete way past the time any reasonable older ambassador for the game should have any right to contemplate. We can blame Tom Watson in Turnberry five years ago, aged 59 and defying the odds by finishing second, for giving ageing past champions like Faldo notions.
Grinding awaySuch is their mentality: there is no point in showing up unless you think you can compete. He was grinding away last Tuesday on the most perfect day you could imagine to play a practice round on a sunny and almost windless Hoylake links, every practice shot counting as he tried to figure out his strategy.
There will be rain this weekend according to the forecast. Which means we will all have to readjust to the softer conditions yet again. He who adjusts most will be the one to beat. Ask the current US Open champion about that strategy.