• • •
LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England – Before we get into the really weird stuff – you know, the sort of material you see only on a confounding links course – we present Darren Clarke, who was befuddled beyond belief.
“Up the last hole, (I am) thinking, ‘How the bleep did I manage to win this last year?’ ” said the man from Northern Ireland.
And with that, the defender at the Open Championship concluded his day at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, one that truly disturbed him. “I’m basically disgusted with myself for shooting 6 over (76),” Clarke said. “That’s not what I was after.”
There were questions about a variety of predicaments Clarke found himself in, yet he rebutted suggestions that he compounded the problems with impatient decisions.
“No,” Clarke said. “That’s links golf.”
Nothing in the sport is so pure as links golf, yet nothing offers the sort of trouble, especially when the grass is tall and the bunkers deep. That is what players are facing at the 141st Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes and while scoring conditions were relatively friendly in Round 1, the “weirdness” was in good form.
There were the snippets of what the devilish bunkers can do, like Aussie Aaron Townsend, who opted to use his putter in one greenside situation. His ball up tight against the back face of the bunker, Townsend couldn’t get a swing on it, so he chose to putt the ball forward just enough to give himself a clear escape.
Lee Westwood didn’t need a putter to escape his bunker dilemma, but he required a very creative move – or desperate, perhaps. Unable to hit it right-handed, Westwood turned his wedge around and played it left-handed – and went backward, to boot. Hardly happy with his 73, the Englishman was not enamored with a reporter’s question.
“Yeah, I practice it all the time, left-handed there out of the bunker,” he said. “I can’t remember the last time I had to play a left-handed shot, never mind out of a bunker.”
Curious though the plays were, they were nonetheless straightforward and did not involve the sort of craziness that others faced.
Rory McIlroy and Keegan Bradley, for instance, had back-to-back adventures they may never see again. At 14, Bradley drove into thick rough right of the fairway and when he tried to escape, the hosel got caught and he pulled his shot dead left into even thicker, wetter rough. Though he found his ball, Bradley deemed it more sensible to take an unplayable lie, and he made double.
McIlroy followed suit at the 15th, though in a different manner. His wild drive right slammed into the head of a spectator, Jason Blue of Bristol, England. The man went down, medics arrived, and though he finally sat up and was attended to, his headache was shared by McIlroy. That’s because the ball caromed out-of-bounds. Ouch, said the man, and McIlroy probably thought, “me, too” because after giving the man a glove with an autograph, he went back to the tee and wound up making a double.
“I didn’t realize that there was out-of-bounds over there,” McIlroy said. “They didn’t even paint the white line. It was just a post.”
Though he was able to get both dropped shots back with birdies at 16 and 18, McIlroy nonetheless found the errant tee shot at 15 to be gnawing at him, as did the fact that the ball took an unfortunate bounce off the man’s head.
“The fortunate part is, he’s OK,” McIlroy said, though he did play along with media members who suggested the man could have produced a good break.
“Yeah, if he could have headed it the other way, it would have been in the fairway,” he said.
Spare Phil Mickelson any of the McIlroy or Bradley problems because he had plenty of his own. As if the double bogey at the par-5 seventh didn’t sting enough, at the par-4 eighth he drove into a bunker down the left side of the fairway, then ripped a shot out that was low and hot.
And then it was gone – swallowed up by tall grass on top of the bunker.
Mickelson apparently had a good bead on the ball because he ran out of the bunker, got down on his knees and searched furiously with his hands.
“In fact, I was actually looking 4 inches from it for three minutes, and I couldn’t find it,” Mickelson said. “But that’s the way the rough is here, and you just can’t go in it.”
It took a while, but he found it, though he wanted nothing to do with playing it. Instead, a la Bradley, the left-hander removed it from the rough, walked back about 25 yards, dropped, and got it up-and-down from roughly 150 yards to make bogey.
Now that might not sound so great, but given the huge number that hangs over your head every time you misfire into the rough or the bunkers, a bogey is often cause for celebration.
“It’s intimidating out there,” said Adilson Da Silva of Brazil. “If you get into a bunker, you’ve got to come out sideways and move on.”
Welcome to links golf.