HOYLAKE, England – Green is the color of this year’s Open Championship. Eight years ago, it was brown.
Royal Liverpool doesn’t have the same burned-out fairways of 2006, when balls ran forever as if they were bouncing down the tarmac surface of Meols Drive, the street that runs past Royal Liverpool Golf Club.
The rain that began falling after the R&A’s annual pre-tournament press conference wasn’t what the governing body wanted. It doesn’t want the course to get any softer.
The R&A likes its marquee tournament to played over fast-and-running links. So the conditions of eight years ago were a joy for them to behold, even if Hoylake looked like a course on the Texas Panhandle.
However, don’t think Royal Liverpool is so soft that it’ll be a bomber’s heaven.
“Is distance going to be an advantage around the golf course? I don’t think so,” said 2010 U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell.
“I don’t walk onto this golf course and kind of sigh and say, ‘Here we go again; this is 330 paradise.’
“It’s not that type of golf course. It’s a placement golf course. It asks you to play a game of chess more than anything.”
Tiger Woods famously used his 2-iron to tame Royal Liverpool in 2006. Players will still be able to hit 2-irons off a lot of tees. They may have to hit a few more drivers than eight years ago, but not that many.
As for the rough, it’s lusher than eight years ago. However, it will depend on the vagaries of links golf on whether mis-hit drives land in deep cabbage or wispy grass. Unlike the U.S. Golf Association, the R&A doesn’t believe in uniform rough heights. Mother Nature takes care of that.
Links golf is a great leveler, bringing many more players into the field. Remember, short-hitting Chris DiMarco was runner-up here eight years ago. Mo Martin won last week’s Ricoh Women’s British Open at Royal Birkdale. The shortest hitter in the field was the only player to break par.
Royal Liverpool isn’t as strong of a challenge as nearby Royal Birkdale or Royal Lytham. Neither is it as quirky as Royal St. George’s. The Hoylake links is a fair test of golf.
“It’s not like a Royal St. George’s, where the ball can bounce from left to right and you’re always having to play inventive, creative shots and really use the luck of the bounce,” tournament favorite Justin Rose said. “Here, everything is a little bit more predictable.”
The defending champion agrees.
“The reason I really like Royal Liverpool is the same reason I really like Muirfield,” said Phil Mickelson, comparing Hoylake with the site of his 2013 victory. “When you have to land a ball 20, 30 yards short of the green, if you hit at the green it will kick on. There are not these repellent hillsides in the landing area that kick balls off into the trouble.”
Woods won the 2006 Open Championship because he dominated the par 5s, even with 2-irons off the tee. Those holes – Nos. 5, 10, 16 and 18 – will play a huge part in who stands with the old Claret Jug come Sunday night.
“We’re all looking at if we can take advantage of the par 5s,” Adam Scott said. “There’s a real opportunity for a low score out there with some good golf on the other 14 holes. It’s going to be a big part of the strategy we’re playing.”
That’s certainly true of the 561-yard finishing hole. Normally the 16th for members, it has internal out of bounds down the right side. However, it shouldn’t pose too many problems.
“You don’t need to hit driver off that tee to be able to score,” Ian Poulter said. “In practice I hit 3-iron, 3-iron on the green. So that hole is certainly reachable in the right wind condition without taking any risk on.”
Poulter slammed the R&A last year for hole locations at Muirfield that resembled a crazy golf layout. Royal Liverpool’s greens shouldn’t trouble this year’s field.
“They’re relatively flat,” Poulter said. “There really isn’t much slope in them. I think once you’ve found the putting surface, you’ve got a fairly flat putt from pretty much anywhere, apart from a couple of holes. There are no windmills.”
The 143rd running of the game’s oldest championship seems set to be wide open.