Once again I climbed into the Butlermobile to make a long drive to The Open – this time just the 315 miles to Carnoustie. I’ve been making the annual pilgrimage to the best golf tournament in the world, largely unbroken, since 1989 when Calcavecchia won at Royal Troon.
The last time I went to Carnoustie was 1999 – Van de Velde’s Open … er won by Paul Lawrie – when the rough was waist high In places and 19 year old Sergio Garcia shot an opening 89. I wasn’t there in 2007 as I was golfing in Ireland which was rather fitting as The Open that year was won by Irishman Padraig Harrington. It was heartbreak again for Garcia when he missed that 10 footer at the last to win, subsequently losing the play-off to Harrington.
This time I headed off on Tuesday, a day later than usual – my daughter had graduated on the Monday – just in time for the rather special Association of Golf Writers Annual dinner held in a spacious and well cooled marquee at the course on Tuesday evening. I was at the course very early on Wednesday morning which enabled me to walk the entire 'red route' around the links prior to the Industry lunch.
So what were my highlights … and low lights at the The Open this year.
- Sergio Garcia is the AGW Golfer of the Year
The award relating to 2017 gave some comfort to El Nino as he collected it after his fantastic major maiden victory at The Masters and hopefully gave him something positive to remember Carnoustie this time round. (His golf over the first two rounds certainly didn’t). When interviewed by the BBC’s Iain Carter, Garcia (minus green jacket) commented that 2017 was extra special with his Master’s win, getting married and the birth of his daughter Azalea … so named in honour of the Augusta National course. Carter later quipped when interviewing Jean van de Velde if he’d ever considered calling any of his children ‘Barry’ as a reminder of his Carnoustie escapade!
- Tiger’s back … and he’s back
Yes it was great to see the great man once again prowling with intent at The Open this year and at one point on the 11th tee of the back nine on Sunday in the lead. Sadly a couple of poor judgements, in my opinion, meant he fell by the wayside over the closing holes but golf needs Tiger and the PR coverage he brings to the sport.
- The Italian Job
There was a brief period on that Sunday afternoon when we were in danger of a Curtis or Hamilton moment with not only another American win but from a largely unheard of American. With Kisner, Chappell and Schauffele all in serious contention it could have ended a little flat for the European crowd especially after the likes of Rory and Tommy Fleetwood promised so much. So it was really pleasing to see Francesco Molinari steadfastly negotiate those last 18 holes with shades of Faldo at Muirfield. He clutch putted his way to victory and a majestic 2 iron at 17 sealed his processional victory march down 18. I thought the last guy to hit a 2 iron in The Open was Watson at Birkdale in 1983! Victory for the time served Italian is a fantastic PR starter for the Ryder Cup which descends on Italy in 2022.
It was interesting to see that Molinari hasn’t got a watch sponsor and so the traditional ‘money shot’ of the newly crowned Open Champion holding the Claret jug aloft with a spanking new timepiece on the wrist was noticeably absent – well by me at least.
… and my lowlights?
- No Readmission
This year your ticket to The Open was for one entry only – there was no readmission. Now you can probably get away with that at Carnoustie but come 2021 and The Open at St.Andrews that’s a big no-no for me. Not being able to leave the course to sample a Bellhaven Best in the town or look around all of the other iconic golf sites is simply madness. Allowing readmission is something that the R&A need to resolve asap and certainly before 2021.
- TV Coverage … of the ball!
With the sunbaked fairways a pale straw yellow and almost white in places I don’t know about you but I struggled to pick up the golf ball on the TV coverage for both approach shots and putting. Even the hole itself took real effort to pick up. The shot tracer on certain tee shots really helped - perhaps they should be on every tee. So whilst I think SKY does a great job, especially with Tim Barter at the Sky cart and excellent interaction and insight from Nick Dougherty in the studio at the Fanzone I think it’s time we found better ways to cover ball flight and ball roll. Vivid Volviks anyone?
- The Shockingly Bland Brand Shop
Since IMG sanitised The Open the Shop has been for me the least attractive place to visit. We’ve simply seen all the merchandise before. Bland and boring. If the R&A are truly concerned about growing the game then they should think seriously about bringing back the ‘Exhibition Tent’. It used to be a hive of the interesting and the novel full of stuff from creatives and entrepreneurs. God forbid we could even have an ETIQUS stall! The opportunity for start-ups and golf’s innovators to show their wares and get real time feedback from the 200,000 or so core golf visitors would be an immense help to them, to golfers and to golf in general. But no, I guess money matters more than the future of the game. I would say that wouldn’t I?
In summary it was a great open but there's still room for improvement.
So next year The Open returns to Royal Portrush for the first time since Max Faulkner won back in 1951. Whilst I’m planning to be in Ireland I doubt I’ll be in Portrush. There’s quite a few links courses around Dublin I’m looking to tick off and for once that might take precedence.
Enjoy the US PGA … if you can find the online coverage!
Yours in golf
PS Huge congratulations to Georgia Hall for her victory in the ladies British Open at Lytham. Georgia, so named after being born in the week that Nick Faldo won the The Masters in 1996 became the youngest major winner at 22 in over a century. I wonder if Georgia likes our Georgia Green watch? Perhaps I should make one for the ladies.