FOUR weeks when you realise you’ve got one of the best jobs going.
Four weeks visiting some of the nicest corners of the British Isles. Four weeks of attending top-class tournaments being played on top-class links courses. Four weeks of being reminded in the build-up to next year’s Ryder Cup that the Americans can still kick ass on foreign soil.
The Scottish Open, Open Championship, Senior Open and Women’s British Open have all come and gone for another year and, with the memories still fresh from a journey that started a month ago at Castle Stuart then moved on to Muirfield and Royal Birkdale before ending in St Andrews on Sunday night, here’s my tuppence worth on them all:
Good: For the third year running, a player in the field became Open champion the following week, the bonus on this occasion being that the popular Phil Mickelson was the winner on both occasions. Mickelson confessed to being a big Castle Stuart fan the moment he clapped eyes on the Inverness course and he used two previous visits there to finally master the shots that earned him a dream double on Scottish soil. Also for the third year in a row, Inverness proved a superb host city for one of the European Tour’s biggest events, one that is deservedly heading back there, almost certainly in 2016.
Bad: While it was a ground-breaking venture, having NBC broadcast the final two days meant late finishes on both the Saturday and Sunday and, though a trip down to East Lothian for the start of the Open Championship build-up may not have been too bad, it won’t be much fun for anyone if the venture is repeated at Royal Aberdeen next year ahead of a trip to Merseyside for the Claret Jug joust.
Good: Muirfield was magnificent, having been turned into an old-style links test with its fast-running fairways and long wispy rough by a hot, dry spell in the build-up. The greens did turn scary, especially on the Thursday afternoon and, as per script these days, it didn’t take long for the whingers to start moaning. It had long since died, though, as Mickelson maintained Muirfield’s tradition of producing pedigree champions and, in terms of a host area, East Lothian has to be difficult to beat for this event.
Bad: The decision by the R&A not to hold a traditional post-event press conference remains baffling. It’s understandable that Peter Dawson, the chief executive, may not have fancied another battering over Muirfield’s men-only policy, but there were plenty of other issues that should have been addressed. Notably an 18,000 attendance drop from the last Open at Muirfield in 2002. If a ticket price of £75 contributed to that – and it surely must have been a factor – will the R&A be reviewing that for next year as well as a decision to scrap concessions for OAPs?
Good: For me, Royal Birkdale ranks second behind Muirfield on the R&A rota and the Southport course certainly proved an excellent test for the old boys. These guys can still play, believe me, and Colin Montgomerie left the Lancashire links admitting he now knows the standard he’s going to have to achieve in his bid to become a major winner in the over-50s ranks. Birkdale may be the jewel in the crown but it’s easy to see why this is called ‘England’s Golf Coast’. I’ve always been a huge Hillside fan, having covered Colin Brooks’ win there in the 1989 British Assistants’ Championship, while a visit to Hesketh, where Machrihanish man Peter McVicar is the head greenkeeper, on this occasion coincided with one of the warmest welcomes I’ve received in the game.
Bad: Due to television coverage, in America presumably, the last group on the final day didn’t go out until just before 3pm despite a threat of thunderstorms. After two suspensions, it left eventual winner Mark Wiebe and Bernhard Langer having to rely on the lights in the clubhouse to see the last green as they fought out a play-off that eventually had to be concluded the following morning. Langer’s last-hole meltdown, having hardly put a foot wrong until then, was unexpected, to say the least, but how the German and playing partner David Frost weren’t punished for slow play in the final round is just as big a mystery. As for Steve Elkington, he should have been kicked out of the event after two rounds following his ridiculous racist rant and slagging of Southport on Twitter.
Good: The attitude of the players taking part in the Ricoh-sponsored event at St Andrews was like a breath of fresh air and no-one typified that better than Inbee Park despite the enormous pressure she was under in her bid to become the game’s first player to win four successive majors in the same season. Unlike their male counterparts, playing on the hallowed Old Course fairways is still a new experience for the women professionals and it was also wonderful to see the likes of winner Stacy Lewis and fellow Americans Morgan Pressel and Paula Creamer savouring St Andrews.
Bad: The European Tour learned that announcing teams straight after the conclusion of an event doesn’t work, hence why Jose Maria Olazabal named his Ryder Cup side for last year’s Ryder Cup the day after the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles. Sadly, the Ladies European Tour has still to learn that lesson, and getting both European captain Liselotte Neumann and her American counterpart Meg Mallon to name their Solheim Cup sides on Sunday night overshadowed the event itself. Compared to the slick media operation run by the LGU and IMG until that point, it was also verging on shambolic.