The fascinating ways that pros have prepped for an Open at the Old Course

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — After days of nitty gritty prep, the Open is finally here. The calm, friendly practice rounds are over. The gauntlet of 72 holes on a firm, baked-out Old Course begins in the morning. 

All week, players have studied St. Andrews, keen to learn some secrets about the centuries old golf course. Tiger Woods practiced long-putting 4-irons up through the Valley of Sin, nestling to just a few feet. Shane Lowry spent one round with just his wedges, circling the 16th green from five yards, then 15 yards, then 40. He might have the best hands in the game, but sometimes the touch is earned on Tuesdays.

Collin Morikawa, your defending champion, is trying to pull off the same, successful equipment change he made last year when he won at Royal St. George’s. He’s put away the 5-wood he plays at most Tour stops and is instituting the 2-iron. St. Andrews seems as firm as it’s ever been. “The fairways are more firm than the greens,” R&A CEO Martin Slumbers said Wednesday

One area of particular concern at a firm and fast track is the rollout areas. Of course, the Old Course’s 112 bunkers loom. But the rough that splits some of the out-and-back design has the potential to be just as significant. Take the rough left on 16, for example. Scottie Scheffler isn’t too afraid of it, set to bomb driver where many others are hitting lay-up irons. Scheffler hit a perfect drive into the fairway Wednesday, then scooped his ball and threw it into the hay. He thinks he’s more likely to end up there, so he spent 10 minutes hitting approaches from it. They all came out softer than he hoped, short of the green. 

The rough on 17 is just as intriguing. It feels like there are magnets embedded in the thick stuff, attracting tee shots. Scheffler hit two in there Wednesday afternoon, trying to dial in his preferred line off the tee. Maintenance staffers have actually been watering the rough for weeks, as it seemed to thin and wispy in mid-June. So some spots of the rough will be greener, thicker and tougher to hit from. Morikawa learned all about that Monday afternoon, when he chunked his approach on 17 just 30 yards forward, staring down puzzled at the lie. 

Up at the green, the fun kind of prep work plays out. Sam Burns, Sepp Straka and Scheffler all tried bellying clubs onto the green from the pavement on the famous Road Hole. Scheffler left his tries short, Straka cooked his long. Burns was a bit more gentle and used the back of the bunker to ease his ball back toward the Sunday pin position. Will he use that info this week? He might. It could be during the final round. That’s why you put the work in. 

Sean Zak Editor

Zak is a writer and host for various video properties and podcasts. Check out his travels on Destination Golf and his latest thoughts on the Drop Zone Podcast:

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