Huggan Reviews The Open...

After praising the R&A for their general wonderfulness, John Huggan slips this in:

Perhaps the only murmur of discontent came over some of the weekend pin positions. Although the overall course set-up confirmed the impression that the R&A are relatively unconcerned with the winning score, there is still a line to be drawn.

Prior to the championship, Scot Graham Brown of the host club, a former club champion, asked R&A chief executive Peter Dawson if the old formula of "six hard, six medium and six easy" was still followed. Dawson laughed. "No," he said, "today it is more like 15 hard and three impossible!"

That estimate was borne out by the experience of former European Tour pro Mike Clayton. The Australian, now a successful course designer, toured the links on the eve of the championship with Retief Goosen's caddie, Colin Byrne. On each green, they tried to find the yellow dot marking the following day's hole location. It wasn't an easy task, given the colour of the greens. But it became easier when they decided simply to walk around the edge of every putting surface - for almost every dot was within four yards of the fringe.

Still, on that count it is hard to be too hard on the R&A. In the almost total absence of wind - only on the final day did it blow with any sort of significance - tucking the pin positions actually rewarded the tactics employed by Woods. Just about the only way to get anywhere near the flags was by playing from the correct position/angle, even if that meant hitting much longer clubs into the greens.

While the 'floggers' were invariably much closer to the hole after one shot, the firmness of the turf combined with the difficulty of the flag locations meant that they were, more often than not, playing away from their ultimate target. Or that they had no chance of getting close, no matter how lofted the club in their hands. Not only is Tiger the best player, he's also the smartest.

And this is something that few other Open stories pointed out:
Then again, for all the magnificence of Woods' play and ball-striking, it was difficult to leave Hoylake without feeling just a little depressed at the direction that golf is headed at the highest level. First, the biggest reason that this Open was so enjoyable is that it was nothing like anything else we will see in golf this year. Amid a week-to-week diet of courses and tournaments that are basically indistinguishable from each other, the world's oldest and most important event stood out like a 160-pound lemon, or Sergio Garcia.

This was proper golf that asked a variety of questions, some of which didn't really have an answer, which is as it should be on a links. Part of playing well by the seaside is realising when there is no reasonable shot available, and proceeding accordingly.

Then there are the now laughable distances that leading players are capable of hitting the modern ball. Before the championship, Ron Whitten, the architecture editor of Golf Digest magazine, caused something of a furore with his less-than-charitable comments on the Hoylake links. While most of his comments proved to be laughably inaccurate, one did strike a chord with this reader.

"Best that members of Royal OB [Hoylake] enjoy this Open as its last hurrah," wrote Whitten. "Sooner or later, every Open course will become obsolete, the Old Course at St Andrews included. Some day the R&A will quit clinging to that which its name evokes, and finally move on."

Now, maybe it's just me, but that little paragraph is more than a little frightening. If Whitten is correct - which, given his recent track record, is admittedly a bit of a stretch - then the time for action on new technology is surely now. If the thought of links like Hoylake and the Old Course at St Andrews being reduced to pitch-and-putt doesn't galvanise golf's authorities into action, surely nothing will.