R&A Chief On Distance Report's Completion, The Role Of Skill And So, So Much More

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The R&A kept their annual press conference short and mostly upbeat, with Championship Committee Clive Brown opening the live set with one song and a nice thank you for his services, followed by an upbeat set from always upbeat chief Martin Slumbers.

He confirmed completion of the Distance Insight Report’s findings and a release of those conclusions until this fall. I asked after the press conference what his views were and Slumbers focused on the question of skill erosion. From my Golfweek report on the comments:

“Golf should be a game of skill,” he said Wednesday. “It should not be a technology driven game. And where that balance is depends on how good you are. And that’s still my gut view. The data will guide us.”

Not surprisingly, it sounded as if the report will focus heavily on the question of some skills having been reduced or nullified by distance, just as the original Statement of Principles said 17 years ago.

In other news, Slumbers discussed the Open rota as remaining at 10 courses, including Trump Turnberry. But no Open’s were announced.

He also explained the R&A’s thinking on the future of the Women’s British Open, from name to style of course and to equal prize money. Alistair Tait with that report for Golfweek.com.

Regarding the growing purse structures in golf, I asked Slumbers whether there is a point the number begins to chip away at the R&A’s core mission, which he seems more passionate about than any of golf’s leaders.

Q. Given some of the things you've described that The R&A is working on, we've seen some significant increases in purses. Is there a point where you could see this sort of race to increase purses impacting your ability to carry out the mission that you're hoping to succeed with so many of these various ventures?

MARTIN SLUMBERS: Yeah, I look at the business in the round. So a lot of my responsibility is to balance out the revenues and expenses of our championships with our desire to invest 200 million pounds into the game in this decade. We're two years into this decade.

I think we have to keep growing The Open. This is our biggest event. And we need to keep growing it to keep it one of the greatest sporting events, with half an eye on how do we improve the difference in pay between The Open and the Women's British Open. You will all have seen that we increased the Women's British Open prize money for this year by 40 percent, and to do that in line with our investments into the game. And we have to juggle all three things.

I think that's what's really important about The R&A. What we really care about is a great championship out here but we really care about the game. We want the game to be here 50 years from now. We want it to be thriving. We want more people to be playing it, more families to be playing it. And try to balance all that out. That's part of my job.

On the financial front the championship has its second largest “attendance” ever. That’s UK parlance for ticket sales.

Odds, Picks And Who Will Get The Best Draw For The 2019 Open At Portrush

There is only so much we know about players and their feelings for (or against) Royal Portrush. And we don’t know whose wife yelled at them, whose caddie’s bad breath is wearing thin and whose chef just isn’t bringing it this week.

But we do have a weather forecast and so far it’s been pretty accurate this week. I tweeted the current Thursday/Friday weather forecast on Wednesday:

Given the tee times, the most significant chance for a disruptive wind event appears to be midday Thursday, potentially throwing a wrench in enthusiasm you might have for mid-morning and midday tee times by for names like Fowler, Matsuyama, McIlroy, Woodland, Casey, Molinari, DeChambeau and Scott.

You can monitor any and all winner odds here at OddsChecker.com.

There are also handy links her to other opportunities, such as a first round leader (a fun longshot option I enjoy), low English player, etc…

My top ten to watch heading into the event for Golfweek’s print edition got an update, with on Jon Rahm slid in over Tommy Fleetwood. Adam Scott might have made it too based on his recent major play and deep dive into Portrush, but I reserved him for…

Golfweek staff picks.

Dan Kilbridge looks at some interesting bets and prices, including some head-to-head options.

Golf.com’s picks and reasoning behind them.

Sleeper picks are a big part of this round up by the Golf team on site.

On that note, I’m off to William Hill to do my part for the local economy. My tastes have moved from betting each/way on the winner pre-tournament given the silly odds. Instead, first round leaders, some longshots and missed-cut bets based on weather will have me handing over some notes. Good luck!

Justin Rose Questions Playing Majors So Close Together

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I penned this explanation—delivered with his typical gentle forthrightness—here for Golfweek

I will say, in the FedExCup’s defense (which Rose rightfully says should not be dictating the major schedule)—that the real juggernaut is not necessarily the “playoffs” but the NFL and college football season golf is working around. 

Either way, however, the numbers are suggesting top players have played less in the calendar year portion due to the tighter schedule and that can’t make sponsors or television happy.

Video: Royal Portrush's Seventeeth And Eighteenth Holes

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And finally, the finishing holes which figure to provide more interest than most Open rota conclusions. At least, based on architecture and setup.

The 408-yard 17th plays from an elevated tee to a crowned landing area before the fairway falls down to the green abutted by the 13th green. With any helping wind, the firm ground and and open green front, there will be a temptation to drive it.

At 345 yards of the tee a new bunker has been added by Martin Ebert to add some zest to the decision should the conditions allow.

The finishing hole is a beautiful piece of work and where the influence of H.S. Colt is felt more than most links finishers, with classic strategy incorporated and a sense that features were used with an intelligent purpose in mind. A new tee to offset driving distances changes the angle a bit, with players driving toward an out of bounds line detailed here for Golfweek that could prove problematic (though historically consistent with the 1951 Open).

The players now drive directly out the out of bounds line. A sizeable carry is required to actually cross the stakes line, but downwind it’s very doable. To get a good look at the 42-pace deep green, players will want to see it and can only do so from the left side of the fairway.

Lay up right and the view is poor or completely obstructed. At 474 yards it’s a beast into the wind, but a case could be made that down wind breezes from the north make it play almost as tough.

As for the OB, it almost assuredly takes away aggressiveness unless a left-to-right wind is blowing. Expect to see plenty of three-woods here and irons with any helping wind. In other words, the risk/reward qualities may be nullified.

One final note: Luke Kerr-Dineen points out for Golf.com how we might see some intentional plays off of the grandstands. Grandstanding!

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"The Open Championship at Portrush may be the only thing Northern Ireland can agree on"

Golfweek’s Eamon Lynch helps the rest of us better understand Ireland, Nortrhern Ireland and The Troubles as we approach the first Open here since 1951.

Even in the darkest of days — and there were many, still etched on the faces of older spectators at Royal Portrush this week — the perception distorted the reality. For much of my childhood, the annual death toll from the conflict hovered around 100, a figure described with callous indifference by one British government official as “an acceptable level of violence.”

One hundred souls. That’s about two days worth of murders in the United States. The threat of violence was more pervasive than the violence itself, metastasizing into every aspect of everyday life. Even today, two decades after the Good Friday Agreement, Northern Ireland retains a slightly sinister air, its people still able to decipher clues about the beliefs of strangers from language or utterances that seem meaningless to the untrained ear.

Tiger's First Look At Royal Portrush: Angles, Complicated, Decisions

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Words that are music to any golf architect’s ear and likely to mean Tiger Woods will be a happy camper if he’s forced to push so many buttons.

Having walked a few holes with his practice pairing alongside Patrick Reed, Tiger was understandably jet-weary from an overnight flight and easing into the round Sunday, but by day’s end appeared to be striking the ball as well as he has lately, with only a couple of quack push-shots. But Tiger Woods otherwise seemed ready and willing to see what he could learn in three days about Royal Portrush, as Steve DiMeglio reports for Golfweek.

Tiger’s attitude toward the course is a good starting place:

“A lot of movement,” Woods said of his initial reaction of the course hard by the North Atlantic in the northern-most tip of the country. “A lot of decisions off the tees, with all the angles. Now, with the wind switching coming out of the south in the future, a lot of these shots we hit today are useless. So we’re trying to figure out what lines to take on and what lines not to take on. And these green complexes are so complicated, you have to miss in the right spot.”

Phil Hits Control-Alt-Delete With Fasting Diet, Loses 15 Lbs For The Open

Putting the “funny Phireside” chats on hold, going on a retreat and living off water and a special coffee blend—really all the same things Willie Park Jr. did before the 1878 Open—Phil Mickelson has posted this missive from the hills above Royal Portrush. One thing he did not do: get a haircut.


Video: Royal Portrush's Fifteenth And Sixteenth Holes

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The par-4 15th begins a home stretch that could play very different from day to day all depending on wind. Downwind, the 15th and 17th will play very short, but into the breeze those two will become more challenging while the 16th and 18th might be neutral for the world’s best.

The flyover of the 418-yard 15th does not capture the difficulty of land forms here or the exposure of the green, but does give you an idea that another right-to-left shaped tee shot seems in order.

Calamity in all its glory, at 236 yards, is a stunning-looking par-3 though I don’t know how much the 75-foot falloff will come into play for the world’s best golfers.

Adam Scott Has Already Spent Six Days At Royal Portrush: "It’s so penal off the tee, no matter what you hit"

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One player who immediately comes to mind reading the Forecaddie’s first look assessment of Royal Portrush is Adam Scott.

Ballstrikers course, mostly quiet greens and a real examination of all shot shapes. Throw in how few players know the course and his six-day deep dive into the 2019 Open venue makes him a very attractive 30-1 shot.

From Doug Ferguson’s AP story, that includes Darren Clarke’s (slightly predictable) suggestion for Scott to sample local whiskey.

“I was a bit surprised, my first look, at how demanding a golf course it is,” Scott said. “Sometimes on a links you can get away with wide shots. Here, you don’t. It’s so penal off the tee, no matter what you hit. If you start spraying it, there’s going to be reloading a lot. If the wind doesn’t blow, there will be less of that. It is a very, very strong golf course.”

Rory Happy With Scottish Open Play, Heads To Portrush The Betting Favorite

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The punters have Rory McIlroy at 8-1 or so, the only single-digit price on the current OddsChecker board totaling all of the UK betting houses.

And while he wasn’t ashamed of his 67-67-68-69, the pushover that Renaissance Club proved wasn’t quite the exacting links test some might have wanted. Though McIlroy says he just wanted “a scorecard in his hand” and while it was unsaid, he surely wanted to arrive at Portrush late enough to cut down on the amount of “Rory” screams he will hear all week (with the best intent of course).

From Alistair Tait’s Golfweek report:

“All I wanted to do was get a scorecard in my hand,” McIlroy said. “Doesn’t matter if the winning score is 20 under or 10 under or whatever. I just wanted to play four rounds of competitive golf. I’m going to do that this week and at least have a better idea of where my game is at heading into next week, instead of having a few weeks off and trying to figure it out once I get there.

Video: Royal Portrush's Thirteenth And Fourteenth Holes

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There isn’t much mystery to the 191-yard par-3 13th at Royal Portrush (view flyover here). It’s the most heavily-bunkered green here and features some nice wings for hole locations—at least they are nice if you aren’t trying to play to them in The Open.

The 470-yard 14th plays back toward the sea, with a fairway filled with bumps and pits to make it one of the most challenging tee shots on the course. Another elevated green awaits, with a steep fall-off left and a slight swale right.

Portrush's 1951 Open Championship: So Much To Savor In Reading About Max Faulkner's Win

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Carve out a few minutes to read John Fischer’s look back at Max Faulkner and the 1951 Open win at Royal Portrush. Fischer covers so much of note about a fascinating character from the past who was rightlyfully remembered as an eccentric who lived an extraordinary existence.

Here is just one of many tidbits of note:

Faulkner had a major weakness: putting. His idol, Locke, seemed to make every putt, but Faulkner missed too many, and he continually changed putters, sometimes even making his own. His most unusual putter had a shaft made from a billiard cue and a head made from a piece of driftwood that Faulkner had found on the beach. He got good press about the odd putter, but it wasn’t that often in his bag.

Here is the official Open site’s write-up of the ‘51 event where hometown man Fred Daly was the favorite son.

There is also this cartoon—yes—recreating the greatest shot final round playing partner Frank Stranahan had ever seen, documented in Fisher’s piece.

Peter Alliss on Faulkner and the 1951 Open. He’s a bit more frail and yet as elegant as ever.

And the old film:

Video: Royal Portrush's Eleventh And Twelfth Holes

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The 475-yard par-4 11th—viewable in this flyover by clicking on the link—poses the most daunting drive if the wind is up. A left-to-right shaped shot is called for but some of the trickiest dunes and vegetation await the wayward. Another green complex with only one bunker and a fall-off to the side.

The hole is named for the club’s first professional.

The par-5 12th plays straight away with pits off the tee to easily catch a slight miss. The par-5 narrows gradually as it plays through dunes and finishes at a small green fronted by a deep swale and fall-offs on all sides. Dhu Varren is the local railway station.


Video: Royal Portrush's Ninth and Tenth Holes

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The ninth at Royal Portrush will be a brute with any wind at all, as a right-to-left tee shot is needed with firm ground to offset the ground tilt and small bunkers awaiting drives not turned over. But turn it over too much and the trouble left appears to be of the pitch-out variety.

Playing through a beautiful dunescape, the 432-yard par-4 finishes with an uphill second shot to a deep, bunkerless green with a fall-off to the right, sideboard left. With two bunkers well short of the green, judging distance may be tricky here.

After a distinctive right-to-left bend to the previous par-4’s, the 10th turns things around and asks for a left-to-right shot shape to shorten its 456 yards. Maybe.

Playing through the Himalaya-like dunescape for which the 10th is named, the optimum view of this long, slender green set amidst dunes comes from the left side of the fairway, otherwise the sightline into the green is likely to be obstructed.

Will Tiger Woods Be Open Ready?

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It’s the question on many minds as Tiger returns to the major he nearly won last year and where his creativity, shot shaping and wind-management give him an edge over less-seasoned players.

But as he goes from Pebble Beach to The Open without a start, it’s reasonable to wonder if just waking up at 1 am is enough to get ready. David Feherty thinks so, sort of. Pat Ralph at Golf.com with Feherty’s comments.

“He sticks to a plan,” Feherty said. “I think a good deal of it will depend upon the weather, which I suspect being from there may not be great. We may get some real Open Championship weather. Personally, I kind of hope we do. There’s something traditional or special about playing golf in bad weather. And Tiger typically is not renowned as a bad weather player. I don’t know what sort of shape his back is in for that kind of thing, but I know Freddy [Couples] suffered with it over the years. But the only mistake I’ve ever made about Tiger Woods is underestimating him. He’s an unknown quantity at the moment.”

Bob Harig takes a deeper look into the numbers and considers Tiger’s chances at Portrush for ESPN.com, noting that Woods has never played the week before The Open as a professional. There was this headline-grabber last week from Padraig Harrington:

"I personally think if you're serious about winning The Open, you've got to be playing tournament golf at least before it," two-time Open champion Padraig Harrington said before last week's Irish Open. "You'd rather be playing links golf and being in a tournament than just [playing] on your own, so if you're serious about trying to win the Open, you should be playing at least one, if not two, of the events running into it.

"I was always mightily impressed when Tiger Woods would play in a major without playing the week before. I'd be a basket case if I didn't play the week before."

It should be noted that even when Woods went over early and hung out in Ireland, he was usually playing golf at an inland course and not on a links buddies trip.

Video: Royal Portrush's Seventh And Eighth Holes; Rory McIlroy Explains How To Play Them

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We’ve arrived at the two new holes created to make this Open a reality. You’ll see much coverage on this, including a Golf Channel feature I hope you’ll enjoy early in the week, with a special emphasis on architect Martin Ebert. (As with the previous flyovers, I can’t embed, so hit the links and enjoy.)

The new par-5 7th measures 590 yards and features a tribute to Nellie (hit link to see the flyover), the huge fairway bunker at the old 17th hole where the tented village will sit this year. What will be done with the old 17th has yet to be officially announced. But in the meantime, we will see if Ebert’s fairway bunker poses the same risk/reward threat as Nellie. From there the 7th winds through steep dunes that used to be part of Valley course holes before a fairly simple looking green, with some fall off left and in front. Note the exposure of sand in the dunes.

From there Ebert created a dogleg left par-4 8th that looks pretty stunning. The tees sit atop dunes and the 430-yarder bends around a ridge line except for one open sand pit that still looks a bit raw and new in this flyover. There are two small bunkers on the outside of the dogleg to catch drives not turning the corner.

This green complex looks much livelier than the 7th and similar to many at Portrush, with plenty of trouble for the missed approach.

Here are two R&A-produced videos with Rory McIlroy playing the new holes and giving his endorsement.

Geography Based: R&A Goes To Three-Hole Aggregate At Portrush

Good to see the R&A is simply looking at the holes before them at Royal Portrush to reduce their normal four-hole aggregate Open playoff to three, as Doug Ferguson reports here.

The mind immediately goes to (A) St. Andrews and its perfect four-hole rotation of 1-2-17-18 and (B) a possible caving to the demands of other majors to shorten the Open Championship playoff. (The Masters is silly sudden death, while the U.S. Open is two holes and the PGA Championship three holes).