#AskAlan mailbag: Can Tiger win the Open, and do PGA Tour pros actually like links golf?

July 17, 2018

We begin this week with a reference to my tweet stating that the British Open is the best week of the season. On Twitter, @CHFounder replied, “It is the best week. I’m giddy. I have my reasons for believing this. What are yours?” The Masters is more glamorous, the U.S. Open a more exacting test, but the Open Championship is the most freewheeling fun we get all year. The golf is raw and elemental, the course (especially this week) wild and and untamed, the weather unpredictable and often defining. Add it all up and nothing tests the players’ shotmaking, creativity and critical thinking like the Open.

And then there are the small pleasures: the spectacular fish n’ chips sold on the course; the canyon of bleachers surrounding the 18th hole; the daily bets at the Ladbrokes shop on the corner; the glorious nightly ritual of filing a story, eating a quick dinner and then playing golf until 10 p.m. I’m especially excited because en route to Carnoustie I’m stopping in Portrush to peep all the preparations for next year’s Open. I shall report on what I find. Until then…

I think guys who played the Scottish Open last week benefit greatly from a week of links style play. Agree/disagree and why….. -@MikeInTheCouv

For sure it’s better preparation than the John Deere. You can never give yourself too much time to acclimate to the bouncy turf and slower greens and omnipresent cross-winds, to say nothing of the jet lag and English breakfasts. I’m honestly still bitter that Jordan Spieth played the Deere in 2015. When it comes to the Grand Slam, history has shown that even the greatest players only get one bite of the apple: Nicklaus, Woods and Palmer each had only one season in which they won the first two legs of the Grand Slam, as Spieth did in 2015. Not arriving until Monday morning of Open week on the Deere charter simply isn’t the best preparation, for any player.

Winning score? And who finishes second behind Tiger Woods? -Jake (@winfreyjake)

The average winning score over the last four years has been 16 under and I’d be very surprised if it’s not even lower this year, unless the winds howl, which is not in the forecast (and right now rain is expected on Friday, which will take some bite out of the course). Per Tiger, this sets up as a very intriguing test. His weaknesses with the driver were exposed at the Masters and U.S. Open but he can holster it this week, if he is so inclined, though that will put him at a big disadvantage if Rory and other super long hitters do in fact bomb it over most of the bunkers, as has been happening in the early practice rounds.

But we haven’t seen a firm, fiery test like this since Hoylake, which remains one of Tiger’s transcendent performances. His iron play remains the foundation of his game (he’s third on Tour in Strokes Gained approach-the-green) and no one is as adroit at thinking their way around a fiery links. But the fact is, Woods is now below average off the tee and middle of the pack on the greens. He needs to have his best week of his comeback with the putter and driver (even if employed infrequently) to even have a chance. That’s a big ask.

Tiger Woods tees off for a British Open practice round.
Tiger Woods tees off for a British Open practice round.

What percentage of the PGA Tour pros actually like links golf? -David (@davidtfbarry)

Less than you think. These guys are all about precision – they want their nine-iron to fly exactly 158 yards and stop dead, because that’s what they’re used to and how they usually prepare. The quirky courses and unpredictable bounces wreaks havoc with their golf OCD. Now, almost every pro is too politic to tell reporters that they don’t like links golf, because they know they’ll be branded as Philistines.

But the candor still leaks out in quasi-private settings. To be sure, plenty of guys do love links golf, and it’s no accident they tend to be the better players who have the well-rounded games and mental acuity to answer the unusual questions presented by the Open.

Is another 62 likely? -Ernie (@efahey81)

If a hard wind doesn’t blow, it’s very likely. The course is effectively playing about 6,000 yards, the greens are pretty flat and very pure, and the rough is not particularly penal. Nasty weather is the course’s only defense. Here’s hoping.

Which non-rota links courses most deserves to host an Open Championship? I acknowledge logistics, access, accommodation and other unfortunate factors limit the field but setting those aside… which course should welcome the Champion Golfer of the Year? -Ian (@DizzyG1964)

It has to be Royal Dornoch, given the course’s grandeur, history and the stern test it presents. It has a special feel and some truly epic holes. The raised, crowned greens – which local boy Donald Ross would export to Pinehurst – make Dornoch unlike any other championship course in the linksland. It’s high time it gets the ultimate championship, remote location be damned.

Is our guy IJP just a poor misunderstood soul. -@fakePOULTER

To some degree, yes. But how many other players are compelling marshals to fire off persnickety letters to tournament directors?! There’s no doubt that Poults has become a magnet for yahoo fan behavior and it’s unfortunate he has to deal with that. But at some point you have to ask, why does all the bad juju swirl around this one player?

Do you think Tom Watson’s near-win in ‘09 at age 59 would have been the greatest accomplishment in golf history? -@JoeGunter

How about sports history? This is the one week each year when we get to rue what might have been. But I’ve come to believe it’s better that Watson didn’t win. He’s such a crusty character, I think the tragic hero role suits him better.

Golf was meant to be played firm and fast like at the Open Championship. Is there any way to have golfers in the U.S. embrace this? #BrownIsOk -@RonVyse

I believe that this century water is going to be what oil was in the last century: a precious resource over which wars are waged. As the global population continues to explode, lush, emerald-colored golf courses are going to become more rare, so I think golfers everywhere are going to have to learn to love burnt-out conditions. I mean, who doesn’t enjoy getting an extra 20 yards of roll off the tee?

But one problem in this discussion is Augusta National. It has become the paragon of golf in this country and brainwashes viewers into thinking that’s what a course is supposed to look like. The USGA is trying to fight back – Pinehurst, Chambers Bay, Erin Hills and Shinnecock were all varying shades of brown. This Open Championship is going to be so much fun to watch I think it will help further nudge folks in the right direction.

Are the Golf Channel employees contractually required to refer to the British Open as The Open? -@MarkLapensee

Like us, they are beholden only to the golf gods.

When pros travel, how many clubs do they generally take with them? And can you carry more than 14 during a practice round? -Craig (@Ctank2116)

Sixteen or 17 clubs is pretty standard. Depending on the course and playing conditions, the pros want the option to add an extra wedge, or swap out a long-iron for a hybrid, or vice versa. For a highly unusual playing field like Carnoustie this week, players are carrying more clubs than usual as they assess their options and figure out their strategy. They can lug as many as they want during practice rounds at Carnoustie, though for a pre-tournament pro-am at a regular event they’re supposed to have only 14, since scores count toward the pro-am competition. However, I don’t think anyone really enforces that rule.

Curtis, Cink, Hamilton, Lawrie…why does the British 😉 have more odd winners than other majors? I know the answer I just wanted to call it the British… -@Elpulpo8888

Well played. The unpredictability of the, ahem, British Open is a huge part of its charm. The nuttiness of Van de Velde/Lawrie has become defining, and it was followed in short order by the Curtis-Hamilton double-dip, but, to be fair, since 2004 all the winners have been world-class.

Higher number: rounds you play this week vs. number of drivers Tiger hits in the entire tournament. #AskAlan -@AmolYajnik

I’m not enjoying a golf orgy like many of my brethren, who have been freeloading in Scotland since last week. My kids are on summer break and I already have to ditch them for the U.S. Open and PGA Championship so I try to keep my sojourn to the linksland pretty tight.

I’ll play Portrush, which is amazing, and Bamberger and I are going to hit Elie, the quirky charmer that is among his favorite courses on the planet. We’re sharing a flat in St. Andrews so the plan is to sneak onto the Old Course a couple of hours before sunset and cram in as many holes as possible. Hopefully that’ll happen a few times. And with the very late tee times on the weekend I’m considering getting up early on Saturday and bombing up to my favorite course in the world, Cruden Bay. But that’s a game-time decision. I think Tiger’s gonna nip me, but it might be close.