PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland – Rory McIlroy once perfectly summed up golf’s capricious nature when he said: “Golf is a bit like an exam paper. I like the fact that each day asks different questions of you even though you can be playing on the same course.”
You can tell he grew up playing a lot of links golf. No other form of the game throws up so many different questions, especially since the weather is a huge factor.
No major championship forces competitors to pay closer attention to weather forecasts. Mother Nature often decides who will hoist the old claret jug.
Capricious weather is as much a part of the Open Championship as the giant yellow scoreboards. It’s why the draw is so important. Take the 2016 Open Championship at Royal Troon. McIlroy finished T-5, 16 shots behind Henrik Stenson. McIlroy might have given Stenson a better run if not for his draw. McIlroy teed off at 9:36 a.m. on Thursday, and 2:37 p.m. on Friday. He had atrocious weather. By contrast, Stenson went off at 2:15 p.m. on Thursday and 9:14 a.m. on Friday in far better weather conditions.
Seve Ballesteros unsuccessfully petitioned the R&A for years to institute a two tee start precisely because he felt the weather played too great a part in determining the champion.
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It could be a crucial factor this year, since everyone is playing the course for the first time in an Open Championship. It’s why Tiger Woods’ caddie, Joe LaCava, has spent a lot of time on the course.
“Joey has done an unbelievable job of getting numbers,” Woods said. “A number of different times because he knows the weather is going to change, the wind is going to change. Our carries are going to be different. Our numbers are going to be different.”
Darren Clarke kicks off Royal Portrush’s return to the Open Championship rota at 6:35 a.m. on Thursday. The 2011 Champion Golfer of the Year knows the part Mother Nature plays in determining a score around his home course.
“The thing about Royal Portrush, because of our location here we do get quite a lot of wind and bad weather,” he said.
“The prevailing wind here is down out of the left on the first. It’s going to be down out of the right or from the right all week. So it’s a totally different wind.”
What U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland has done in practice might bear no resemblance to what he does when the gun goes off on Thursday.
“The wind has been opposite direction than we’re expecting this week.” Woodland said. “I’ve hit a lot of drivers so far. I don’t anticipate doing that much this week.”
Justin Thomas is one for three in cuts made in the Open Championship. He finished 53rd on his 2016 debut. He accepts part responsibility for that record, but acknowledges the intangibles too.
“The weather and the draws that I’ve been in haven’t exactly been ideal,” Thomas said. “Hopefully it will even out or get in my favor sometime. That’s just a part of the Open Championship.”
Thomas goes off at 12:53 p.m. on Thursday and 7:52 a.m. Friday, McIlroy at 10:09 a.m. Thursday and 3:10 p.m. Friday. According to Met Office forecasts, there’s a 70% chance of rain at 10 a.m. on Thursday and it could hang around all day. On Friday too, with a 40% chance of showers starting from 1 p.m. The wind looks like it should blow around 7-15 mph throughout Thursday. The breeze is predicted to be softer on Friday.
The operative words are “predicted to be.” Capricious is far more accurate word. The weather can change in a heartbeat in the Open Championship.
Thomas will be hoping the draw is kinder to him this year, while McIlroy will hope another early/late draw is not a case of Royal Troon déjà vu.