Open Championship 2012
Peter Thomson won five Open Championships. The fourth was earned at Royal Lytham & St Annes, in 1958, when golf was played with wooden woods and sand irons with fifty-five degrees of loft. Thomson triumphed in Lancashire following a playoff with Englishman Dave Thomas, despite spending the week without a sand wedge in his bag. “I wasn’t a good bunker player,” he later said, “so I decided I wouldn’t go in them.”
21 years later the 22-year-old Spanish genius Severiano Ballesteros arrived at the same links to be warned by his caddy (the stoic and long-suffering Dave Musgrove) that the Lytham bunkers were very difficult. “No problem” said Seve, “I am the best bunker player.”
He famously hit just nine fairways from the tee that week but 12 out of 13 times he was up and in from the bunkers in two shots and he was the only man to break the par of 284.
Presumably Thomson missed fewer than nine fairways in 1958, so straight was he from the tee.
The lesson is that crooked hitters can win at Lytham if they have the heart and skills of the great Spaniard (few, if any, do of course) and bad bunker players can win if they hit as straight as Thomson – but so few do in this era of obscene power.
Last time the Open came to Lytham David Duval was the winner and that surprised no one. He was, with Tiger Woods, one of the best two players in the world at the time and here was the culmination of six or seven years of first-class play on the tour. Almost unbelievably his game disappeared in much the same fashion of the champion a decade earlier, Ian Baker-Finch.
Only they know what really happened to the feel of the swing and what went on inside their heads but it is not a game to take for granted. Even Ballesteros, who came back in 1988 and won again, lost his long game completely by the middle of the nineties.
As is often the case with Open Championships, the weather will determine the golf and the scores. It seems that what has passed for the English summer has made for thick green rough and that won’t make the golf easy. The rain isn’t so much of a problem unless it comes with the wind – as it is the wind that makes golf by the sea so difficult to play but so enthralling to watch.
It was the favourite this week, Tiger Woods, who noted that only on the British links and the courses of the Melbourne sandbelt that players “actually use the ground as a friend and bounce the ball into the greens.”
Thomson was the master of that game and Woods is a great adaptor as he showed at Hoylake in 2006 on that burned out links made so by a summer far removed from this dreadfully sodden season. This week the ground won’t be as hard and brown as it was then but nonetheless the golf will thankfully be quite different from the week-to-week target golf on the PGA and European Tours that is played largely through the air.
Australia has thirteen starters and one exempt absentee, Jason Day, who is back in America with a new baby. Some obviously make up the numbers but those who head to the par three opener at Lytham with high hopes include Adam Scott, Aaron Baddeley, Hartford winner Mark Leishman, John Senden – who was fourth last week in America, Australian Open winner Greg Chalmers and Geoff Ogilvy.
The first five are coming out of an American heat wave (Baddeley did play last week at Castle Stuart in the Scottish Open) but Ogilvy’s unusual three-week preparation in Melbourne’s miserable winter might prove ideal. Royal Melbourne may look different from Lytham but the shots both ask for are related.
Scott has done the best lately in the major championships, playing well at both Augusta and Olympic without having a winning chance. Senden too played well in San Francisco and wasn’t without hope with a few holes to play. He has always been amongst the top ten in the category that measures the number of greens hit in regulation, but more relevant, notes Ogilvy, is the category measuring how close to the hole you are when you do hit them. Luke Donald, the English scoring machine, is the best in the game at rolling three shots into two from inside a hundred yards and that is why he has been the most consistent player post the Woods fall from grace.
Senden, Scott and Ogilvy all look more impressive than Donald but as Ballesteros showed in 1979 that isn’t what gets it done.
:: Mike Clayton