Sunday, August 14, 2022

Open Championship 2022: What to expect from the historic Old Course at St. Andrews for the year’s final major

Players return this week to the site of where it all began as the Home of Golf, the Old Course at St. Andrews, hosts the 150th Open Championship. A fixture in the Open rota dating back to the inception of the sport, St. Andrews has been able to stand the test of time and continuously identifies well-deserving champions.

It began in 1873 when Tom Kidd won the first edition of The Open played on an 18-hole course; he signed for rounds of 91-88 and collected 11 pounds for his championship-winning efforts. Fast forward more than 100 years, and the last time players traveled to St. Andrews, a dramatic playoff unfolded and saw Zach Johnson outdo Louis Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman — all of whom are in this week’s field.

In between the two, some of the best players to ever grip a golf club have raised the treasured Claret Jug on the 72nd green of the Old Course. Jack Nicklaus completed the career grand slam for the third time with his victory in 1978, and 22 years later, Tiger Woods accomplished the same feat for the first time.

Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Arnold Palmer have all taken the final steps of their Open careers at this sacred venue just as Mark Calcavecchia will this year. History is at the core of St. Andrews, and the all-time winningest player in major championships may have said it best many years ago.

“If you’re going to be a player people will remember, you have to win The Open at St. Andrews,” Nicklaus said.

Opens at St. Andrews since 1970

1970

Jack Nicklaus

283 (-5)

Doug Sanders

Y

1978

Jack Nicklaus

281 (-7)

Ben Crenshaw, Raymond Floyd, Tom Kite, Simon Owen

N

1984

Seve Ballesteros

276 (-12)

Bernhard Langer, Tom Watson

N

1990

Nick Faldo

270 (-18)

Mark McNulty, Payne Stewart

N

1995

John Daly

282 (-6)

Costantino Rocca

Y

2000

Tiger Woods

269 (-19)

Thomas Bjørn, Ernie Els

N

2005

Tiger Woods

274 (-14)

Colin Montgomerie

N

2010

Louis Oosthuizen

272 (-16)

Lee Westwood

N

2015

Zach Johnson

273 (-15)

Louis Oosthuizen, Marc Leishman

Y

What’s different about links golf?

Links golf presents a completely different challenge typically presented to those who play in the United States. It begins from the tee box as players will experience roll out north of 100 yards depending on the trajectory of their tee shot. Utilizing the firm, wide fairways of the Old Course will be crucial, but that does not mean accuracy will not be rewarded.

Playing from the correct side of the fairway will be key, and from there, competitors will have to use the natural contours of the Earth in order to access some of the more difficult pin locations. With easy conditions expected, the R&A’s main defense will come in the form of tucked pins in between slopes or behind pot bunkers. Instead of hitting a spinny chip or a flop shot, some may opt for the ground game as Rory McIlroy did on the par-4 17th — the Road Hole — in a practice round earlier in the week.

As such, creativity will be crucial. It is no wonder a player such as Jordan Spieth has a tremendous track record in this championship as he is not only imaginative from tee to green but also on the greens. Lag putting is paramount for success given the massive greens of St. Andrews, and those who effectively avoid three-putting will find their name near the top of the leaderboard.

What the pros are saying

Players are still going through their tournament preparation, but the common phrase to describe the Old Course thus far has been, simply, “firm and fast.” Unlike Royal Portrush in 2019 — where wind and rain wreaked havoc on competitors — this week the wind will be relatively flat, and outside the occasional storm cloud, St. Andrews should remain somewhat dry.

Playing to an unconventional par 72 — 14 par 4s, two par 5s and two par 3s — and measuring a measly 7,313 yards for today’s standards, the conditions will allow various golfers, not just your bombers, to contend.

“I think everyone’s seen how firm and fast the fairways are. … It’s definitely a lot more of a strategic golf course when it plays like this,” said 2014 Open champion Rory McIlroy. “If you hit a lot of drivers, you may get close to some of these greens, and it would be advantageous to lay back and give yourself fuller, fuller wedge shots into some of these greens.”

Sound advice from the man who finished in a tie for third in 2010 and it echoed the sentiments uttered by the reigning Champion Golfer of the Year, Collin Morikawa.

“Obviously the bunkers are — you have to stay out of them,” said Morikawa. “With guys hitting it so far and having firm fairways, right? And having not a lot of wind — a lot of the wind this week is going to be crosswinds. … It’s playing short. Pins are definitely going to be tough. They’re going to have to, because sometimes when you are 50 yards away, it’s not advantageous to be there and you’re going to have to play back and almost bring the bunkers into play. There’s going to be a lot of thought processing on what to do.”

In total, the Old Course features 112 bunkers and the largest greens these players will face all year — roughly four-times the size of the greens at The Country Club. Accuracy and precision have often been the strengths of Morikawa’s game and will be needed in spades if he is to successfully defend his title.

Has much changed over the years?

While this will be Morikawa’s first competitive stroll around the Old Course, that is hardly the case for Woods, the 15-time major winner. In what is likely Woods’ last legitimate chance to win another Open at St. Andrews, the 46-year-old discussed the subtle modifications made since his first appearance in 1995.

“They’ve lengthened a few holes since I first played here in ’95. And obviously, they lengthened No. 8 this year. Yeah, I think every pot bunker has gotten a little bit deeper,” said Woods. “Yes, even with the advancements in technology, this golf course still stands the test of time. It’s still very difficult, and it’s obviously weather dependent. You get the winds like we did today, it’s a helluva test. … Then again, if you get a calm day on this golf course, you can see some players probably have four to five eagle putts. It is weather dependent.”

What to expect from the Old Course

Unfortunately for those who wish to spectate the classic Open conditions, this year may be similar to last year at Royal St. George’s. With winds steady throughout the week and consistently blowing from the same direction, players should have an understanding of what to expect by the time they tee off Thursday morning.

Because of this, the winning score should reach somewhere around 16 under par as they have averaged out to in each of the Opens held at St. Andrews in the 2000s. Despite the relative low scores projected for the final major championship of the year, if a competitor is fractionally off is any aspect of his game, bogeys will be abundant and a short trip to the Old Course will be had.

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