40 Open observations … and St. Andrews thoughts from a Scottish LPGA pro
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What a week. That was some fun, wasn’t it? Despite the fact that, after Cam Smith raised his newest pint glass on Sunday, major season is over, and the thought that the 262 days to the start of the next one are as uncertain as a St. Andrews weather forecast, the past seven days at the Open Championship felt almost like … a golf hug, right? Watching it wherever you did, you were … warm and cozy. Like going home.
So I emailed Gemma Dryburgh. She’s an LPGA pro whom I had Zoom beers with back in February. But even more germane to this story, she’s from Scotland, Aberdeen, to be exact, about 80 miles north of St. Andrews. And I wondered to her about this … feeling.
She gets it.
“I can’t imagine what the atmosphere must be like. It must feel like a big celebration of golf,” she graciously wrote back, while playing at the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational. “I’m sure the whole town and the surrounding area is absolutely buzzing with golf fans. I know my aunt and uncle, who live about 20 miles from St. Andrews, said their town is full of people coming to watch the Open so the buzz is extending much farther than just St. Andrews itself.”
Indeed. With that first takeaway, let’s talk the Swilcan Bridge and Tiger Woods and Marco Polo (yes) and everything else from Open week. And Gemma will join us. Let’s aim for 36 observations. It’s the day after the last major of the year, so we deserve it to ourselves to play more than one round.
2. Did Cam Smith win it? Or did Rory McIlroy lose it? You’re maybe wondering this today.
For the pros, and though it’s seemingly cliche, the St. Andrews plan is patience. You wait till thing are right — the lie, the number, the wind, the feel — and you pounce. Smith had enough of those chances and shot a 64. McIlroy didn’t and signed for a 70. On Saturday, it was reverse; Smith finished with a 73; McIlroy a 66.
McIlroy could have maybe been more aggressive, though remember, he was popping drivers to set himself up. Smith found momentum, and McIlroy didn’t. Have them play today, the result could likely be different.
3. Two more Smith thoughts. Could he be playing his golf for LIV next? Here’s this awkward exchange after he won:
Reporter: “Cam, apologies for having to bring this up in these circumstances, but your name continues to be mentioned, has been mentioned to me this week about LIV golf. What’s your position? Are you interested? Is there any truth to suggestions that you might be signing?”
Smith: “I just won the British Open, and you’re asking about that. I think that’s pretty not that good.”
Reporter: “I appreciate that, but the question is still there. Are you interested at all? Is there any truth in that?”
Smith: “I don’t know, mate. My team around me worries about all that stuff. I’m here to win golf tournaments.”
My guess: He’ll play the PGA Tour playoffs — he talked about this on Golf Channel, too — then stay tuned.
4. Smith likes his beer, and we all got a laugh on Sunday when he said he would try to figure out how many brews the Claret Jug could hold. He wasn’t kidding.
5. Poor Rory. What else is there to say? The thought, though, is this: He’s tinkered before, and you should pay attention to whether he does it again.
6. Question to Gemma!
Me: “Why … the Old Course? What is it about it that’s so … dynamic? Describe to me the Old Course.”
Gemma: “The Old Course is a very special place. It has this aura around it that no other course has when you arrive there. You almost always get goosebumps even when you’re just walking around the place. I think it’s the history that the town and the course have, and you just know you’re in a very special place.
“I think it is also special that it hasn’t been changed much since golf first started there. I think it gives it a certain purity that no other course will ever have. And you can’t get much more of an iconic place than the first few holes and the finishing holes anywhere else in the world.”
7. If you’re an American golf fan, you want Cameron Young on your Ryder and Presidents Cup teams. He has that assassin look to him.
8. Viktor Hovland had one of my favorite quotes of the week, after Saturday’s third round.
Reporter: “Did you ever have a thought today this is where I intended to be my entire life, in this situation?”
Hovland: “I was thinking what the hell am I doing here? [He laughed.] Yeah, I mean, it’s pretty crazy from where I grew up and so far away from playing the PGA Tour, European Tour, for that matter, major championships. Just to be here is very special, but to have a chance to win one is — yeah, I have to pinch myself, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to hold back tomorrow.”
9. Maybe this is where we segue into LIV Golf. We’ll keep it brief. Hostility is the word to describe the feelings last week, at least between reporters and LIV players. Though Sergio Garcia said this Friday:
Reporter: “With everything that’s been said the last couple of weeks, how much has it galvanized you guys, I mean even the R&A this week?”
Garcia: “I don’t care what they say. I don’t even read. I don’t know how to read anymore.”
10. Lee Westwood said there’s been no issues, though, between players.
“I’ve spoken to a lot of people over there last week, and there’s no animosity between players,” he said to a reporter. “Yet the story’s been written that there are. Yeah, you’re creating issues where there are none. You want to be that way, fine.”
11. The world ranking decision will be interesting. But I’m very interested to know what Augusta National says.
12. Question to Gemma!
Me: “Describe to me St. Andrews, the town.”
Gemma: “The town of St. Andrews is a very special place, too. It’s small and personable. There are so many cute little golf shops and normal shops to wander around. Even if you don’t play golf, it’s an amazing town to visit and explore. The university plays a big part in the community and has a lot of beautiful buildings. The beach is also beautiful and an amazing place to walk. The town has its fair share of history other than golf, too, so the town really has something for everyone and is just a joy to walk around and explore.”
13. One more LIV observation, sort of. Ian Poulter was booed ahead of his opening tee shot on Thursday, though he says he didn’t hear it. But the hisses raised an interesting thought to me: That would be some jolt if you’re not expecting it. I know where I would put my golf ball. Here’s what Poulter did with his:
14. Let’s talk St. Andrews, the course. The talk ahead of the tournament was whether it was defenseless against modern players, equipment and golf balls; the discussion during the event was St. Andrews’ defense — fast fairways, difficult pins and the usual humps and bumps and breezes of links golf.
Here’s the thought: Were you thinking that on Sunday afternoon? Whether the tech is dialed back or not — and it probably will be — the golf was fun, to players and viewers. The scores were low, but this wasn’t exactly point, click and shoot golf.
Let’s move on.
15. The 17th was jabbed a bit for being too hard, and it probably was due to its pin locations, but man, that Cam Smith sequence around the green was both tense and enjoyable to watch. We’ll take that, right?
16. The 18th was jabbed a bit for being too easy, and it probably was due to its lack of distance and speedy fairway, but man, that Rory McIlroy sequence around the green was both tense and enjoyable to watch. We’ll take that, right?
17. Do you even go to St. Andrews if you don’t get a pic atop the Swilcan Bridge? Though, Terry Gannon, on the NBC broadcast, shared a funny story, when he said the photographer of his picture years ago … didn’t include the bridge.
18. Has Gemma ever played the Old Course?
“I have, but played the Old Course only once, though. Played with my dad when I was roughly 13 or 14. But I have played a lot of the other St. Andrews courses while growing up and playing several tournaments there.”
19. Speaking of the Swilcan, let’s talk Tiger. What a moment on Friday, and you’ve no doubt seen and read about it already, so we’ll look ahead. (Though if you haven’t, our Dylan Dethier captured the scene well here.)
Here’s what we know, according to him: He’s not retiring, he’s not sure when he’s playing again, he’s not sure if he’ll again be able to play St. Andrews again. Though son Charlie may push him out for a round.
“I’m sure my son will probably want me to come back here and play,” he said Friday. “I was fortunate enough to have gotten an honorary membership to the R&A. I have my locker here right when you walk into the left here. That’s pretty neat. And because of that, I’m able to get a tee time. (Woods laughed.) So that could happen.”
20. So when do we see him play again? Probably not till his Hero World Challenge in December, though he may make an appearance at the Presidents Cup in September. So that’s five months of rehab, strength training, practice and adjustment to what his body now allows him to do.
After that, we might not see him until the Masters. So that’s another four months of work. You can take that optimistically and say that’s what he needs right now. Or you could think pessimistically and wonder whether the lack of tournament reps could cost him.
None of this, of course, is news to Woods himself.
21. Speaking of the Swilcan and Tiger, he was photographed with Jack Nicklaus there earlier in the week and this happened:
“I’ve gotten to know Tiger very well over the past decade or more, and he’s like that in private moments, more so than anyone really thinks,” McIlroy said. “But I think he’s just maybe showing that side a little more, that side of himself a little more to the public over these last few years.
“And as his career is sort of winding down, I guess you could say, I think he now appreciates everything that he’s got done in the game. I think Tiger’s mindset has always been, OK, onto the next one, onto the next one, onto the next one. I think, especially after the Masters in ’19, for him to just sit back and reflect on what a career it’s been, I think he maybe appreciates it all just a bit more now, and that’s part of the reason that you’re seeing that sort of lightness and more joyful person on the golf course, I guess.”
23. Then there’s playing with Woods. Here’s Max Homa, who played with his childhood idol for the first time, on what he picked up:
“He does seem to do a really good job of staying within himself when he walks and how he moves. Yeah, you obviously have to lock in — I think we see it on TV with them, but there’s just so many frickin’ people. It’s cool — I’m not sure if it feels cool to him anymore, but it’s just cool to watch. Matt Fitzpatrick and I were talking about how whenever Tiger is hitting off the tee, especially there’s just so many phones and so many people’s hands just in the air. They don’t even know if they’re getting a shot. It’s just impressive he can do what he does and has done with all that attention.”
24. St. Andrews also slowed play down during the first two rounds — some rounds were six hours plus — and Dethier summed up the reason well when he tweeted: “The ball’s going crazy far so players have to wait for greens to clear from 350+, but then balls end up in fescue, bunkers etc. Long game requires waiting, short game requires time. Drivable 4s, reachable 5s, overlapping holes all make it worse.”
25. Then there are Shane Lowry’s feelings on the matter.
“I’ve been doing this long enough to deal with days like today,” he said Thursday. “If you’re standing there trying to make excuses for your bad day for being too long on the course, well, don’t come here and play because it’s the Open at St. Andrews, and it’s going to take six hours to play a round around here, and that’s just the way it is. I know how to deal with that.”
26. Speaking of quotes, here are a few of my favorites from the week. First up, there was this exchange between a reporter and Trey Mullinax:
Reporter. “What did you do yesterday?”
Mullinax: “What did I do yesterday?
Reporter. “When you finished.”
Mullinax: “I went and had pizza.”
Reporter. “Not dinner, but was making the cut an issue for you? Did you do anything special at the end?”
27. And then there was this exchange between a reporter and Filippo Celli:
“How much do you like the Ryder Cup venue in Rome? Marco Polo?”
Celli: “No, Marco Simone.”
28. Question to Gemma!
Have you ever gone to an Open?
“I have. I went to the Open at St. Andrews in 2010. Turnberry in 2009, Troon in 2004. I was also at my grandparents’ house in Carnoustie when Paul Laurie won in 1999. My dad was there watching in person for that one.”
29. A few more quotes. Here’s Danny Willettt, on why he enjoys St. Andrews so much:
“A bit of history. I think it’s just good fun. You can just cleverly golf your ball around this place. You can hit certain shots that you wouldn’t ordinarily hit. You’re trying to use the wind to soften the flight. You’re playing your round of golf a lot. You’re not just standing there hitting the same shot time and time again. You see a lot of different approaches down different holes. Guys hitting anything from 4-irons to drivers, depends on what they see, what shot shape they hit. And so I think it lends itself to real nice shot-making and nice visualization.
“You can run it up to certain flags like 17. Some guys trying to spin it and hold it softly against the wind. There’s just lots of things you can do. I think notoriously if you look back at the Opens around this place, they’re very, very good winners. Real good ball-strikers, good flight. People can fly the ball really well. It’s just a nice shotmaker’s golf course.”
30. And here’s Sahith Theegala, a links newcomer, on why he likes links.
31. Let’s talk the vibe. Soft serve was popular at the course, and Jordan Spieth tried to house a cone, then quit.
32. The Los Angeles Times wrote an excellent story on the tent city at St. Andrews, where you could have stayed for the event, should you have won a lottery. The Open has had this feature since 2016.
33. St. Andrews is closed to golf on Sundays, but open to the public, and the Fried Egg shared this wonderful video that showed that after the Open, it was business as usual.
34. Jack Nicklaus, who won two Opens at St. Andrews, was asked for his strategy. He didn’t disappoint.
35. Scotsman Robert MacIntyre was playing in his home country, on its most famous course, and there was arguably no one whom this week meant more to.
“Yesterday [Friday] was big for me,” he said. “I’ve never been that stressed on a golf course in my life. With seven holes to go, I don’t know what was going on. Had to turn away from the actual fairway on 16 because there was too much going on. Fan support is absolutely brilliant, but I was feeling it. Almost — you’re not letting people down, but you know how much it means. There’s so many people supporting me, and it means so much to me that I just didn’t — I wasn’t going to let them down because I was having a hard bit, but I was trying almost too hard.
“Then the two putts on 16 and 17 yesterday, I just gave up. I was like, great, I gotta have these putts, and if they go in, they go in. Thankfully, I holed them.”
36. Woods’ mom, Kutilda, was also on hand, which led to this fantastic exchange:
37. Let’s do a few more. Consider this our 19th holes. Should you want to know more about all that is Scotland and Scottish golf, do yourself a favor and follow our Sean Zak on Twitter. He’s posted up there all summer long, and it’s been a joy to follow along.
38. Question to Gemma!
What’s the No. 1 thing you have to do when you’re in St. Andrews (eat, drink, shop, see)?
“Well I have to say a visit to St. Andrews Brewing Company is a must! [Editor’s note: Gemma is backed by the brewery, but … she’s not wrong.] A visit to the Dunvegan and Auchterlonies golf shop are also musts and feel like they are a huge part of the experience at St Andrews. The R&A golf museum is also a must for any golfer visiting too. When I was a kid, I also loved going to the aquarium!”
39. She emailed back. “Also forgot the Jigger Inn as a must go-to!”
40. So with that being said … what’s the drink of choice at the Jigger??
“For me, it’s a Tennent’s lager, but they pretty much have everything in there! If they have BrewCo beer, I’d obviously love to have one of them.”
If you’re interested, I also compiled takeaways, thoughts and observations this year from the Masters, PGA Championship and U.S. Open, and they can be found below: