British Open: Links, winds and sweater weather
Southport, England is stationed in northwest England and – for golfers at least – frighteningly close to the Irish Sea.
The oft-seen winds coming off the Irish Sea will be mixed in a potent, bogey-causing package with deep bunkers, gnarly rough that tops the hundreds of sand dunes and tight fairways whose rough gobble up misplaced 300-yard drives.
If you are at Royal Birkdale and hail from outside the United States, it’s the week of “The Open.” Most of the world bows to the historic tournament in a deference that is rarely seen.
Those professional players from America know it’s the British Open, the third of four majors played every year.
Royal Birkdale swallows many of the competitors without calling their errant shots to a watery grave. Two of three most difficult holes on the par-70 layout are the opening hole and No. 18 which brings the round to a close in front of the much-photographed, white Art Deco clubhouse.
There is an out-of-bounds on the first hole, and there is another out-of-bounds on the 18th hole.
It’s a typical links course, often found near the coasts of England, Scotland and Ireland. Straw-colored grass of considerable length grows atop the cadre of sand dunes, making off-line shots susceptible to double bogeys . . . or worse.
The hundreds of bunkers usually have lips that make retreating from their depth challenging at best.
The Irish Sea winds can’t be fully escaped. The holes run in all directions making sure the wind gets its say in who the eventual champion will be.
This will be the tenth time the British Open will be played at Royal Birkdale, the last in 2008.
Should any of the four days of the tournament be gray with menacing clouds, you’ll see the players in all sorts of fleece-lined gear, sweaters and body-clinging, long sleeves.
Even on a day when the clouds only scuttle away from the wind it could be chilly and unsuited to the players from south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
The flagsticks will bend to the wind. And many of the players will, also.
Panoramic views of the beaches nearby will be shown by the television people covering this event from the first tee time of 1:35 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time until the last putt is safely in on Sunday afternoon.
Henrik Stenson, last years champion, has not been playing well. Neither has the world’s top-ranked player, Dustin Johnson. Roy McIlroy has missed cuts in both the recent Irish Open and Scottish Open.
Bookmakers in England have taken the cause of Timmy Fleetwood and Jon Rahm to heart. There are those that look for Hideki Matsuyama to break through and prevail. Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia and Adam Scott have their followers. America’s Rickie Fowler, now 28 years old, has never won a major championship, and 47-year-old Phil Mickelson is back again in the 156-player field.
Polite applause will greet every player to tee off. More polite applause will greet every player at the close of their rounds — regardless of whether it’s a 66 or an 86.
Less-than-polite wind will introduce itself to every player. So will the bogeys and wind-mangled shots. Bunkers will explode some scores. The high grass and off-balance stances on the sides of dunes will capsize other scores.
After all, it’s “The Open” . . . and nerves as well as nine irons need to be tested before a true champion can be crowned.