McDowell wrong to take a swipe at Castle Stuart

Imbee Park was congratulated by her parents after winning the  US Women's Open. Picture: AP
Imbee Park was congratulated by her parents after winning the US Women's Open. Picture: AP
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THOUGH he’s someone I could listen to all day long, Graeme McDowell was off the mark when he claimed the Scottish Open had “lost its identity and prestige” by moving to Castle Stuart, where the event will be held for the third year running next week.

According to the 2010 US Open champion, the Inverness course “probably hasn’t been strong enough the past couple of years” due to it being “too one-dimensional” and says he’d like to see it played on “a phenomenal links course with a great purse and a world-class field”.

In fairness to McDowell, he admitted to “feeling bad” that he’d singled out the Scottish Open, an event he won at Loch Lomond in 2008, and also described Castle Stuart as a “beautiful venue”, but, all in all, his comments were akin to a kick in the teeth. They were also delivered by a man who has only paid one visit to the Highlands course and, like some others, McDowell has probably allowed himself to be influenced by the unfortunate events of 2011, when horrendous weather led to a couple of landslips and the event being decided over 54 holes.

As Luke Donald’s 19-under-par winning total illustrated, it was easy for the players on that occasion and McDowell joined in the low-scoring spree himself with a second-round 64 before taking ten shots more in the final round, when he ran up a quadruple-bogey 9 at the 12th, no doubt finding the bank of gorse on the right with his tee shot in trying to avoid the Moray Firth on the other side of the fairway.

That probably had something to do with the fact he didn’t return last year and won’t be in next week’s field for the Aberdeen Asset Management-backed event. Neither will Lee Westwood, though I had a feeling he wouldn’t be back to Castle Stuart in a hurry after getting unlucky with a bounce with his approach to the last in the final round two years ago and walking off in a blind fury.

The irony of McDowell’s claim about the event’s “identity and prestige” is that he’s inferring it was better on an inland course at Loch Lomond, yet we’d been led to believe a number of leading players were keen to see it move to links layouts to help with preparations for the Open Championship.

McDowell seems to be excited about next year’s switch to Royal Aberdeen, yet, by the sound of things, he’s basing that on second-hand opinion, having not played there himself. It is, indeed, a splendid course but so, too, is Castle Stuart and one thing that people should factor in before coming out with the sort of statement McDowell did last week is that a course, especially one in Scotland, needs to be judged when it’s been played in all sorts of conditions.

Only once in seven Scottish Open competition days has the wind blown so far at Castle Stuart. That was the final round last year and it made a significant difference. The lowest score that day was 67 – eventual winner Jeev Milkha Singh shot that in a flawless effort – and only five players out of 77 broke 70. Even with its generous fairways, it was by no means a pushover; let’s hope we get similar conditions on at least a couple of days next week.

If the event has “lost its identity and prestige”, then someone’s obviously forgotten to tell both Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els. Glowing in his praise of the venue from the first day he clapped eyes on it, Mickelson has been committed to his third visit to Castle Stuart for a couple of months now. And, just as I suspected despite his humming and hawing in recent weeks, Els will be there, too, to finalise his preparations for defending the Claret Jug at Muirfield.

Why, if McDowell is right, are NBC also breaking new ground by making next week’s event its first live regular European Tour broadcast? Pictures beamed all across the United States will be oozing with “identity and prestige” and Rich Lerner, who’ll front the coverage, and his crew will feel a welcome surrounding the Scottish Open in Inverness that is a lot warmer than it ever was around Loch Lomond.

The Highlands has put its heart and soul into staging one of the European Tour’s flagship events and, in the build up to a last hurrah – for the time being anyway – Mark Parsinen and his hard-working team at Castle Stuart didn’t deserve to hear what McDowell, one of the circuit’s leading lights, came out with on this occasion.

Phenomenal Park raising women’s golf to new heights

OF ALL the treats in store for Scottish golf fans over the next few weeks, one has suddenly intensified in terms of significance after Inbee Park moved a step closer to completing an unprecedented women’s grand slam.

In winning the US Women’s Open at Sebonack – the 24-year-old South Korean turned the last round into a victory march – Park became the first player in more than 50 years to capture the season’s opening three major titles, having already claimed the Kraft Nabisco and, beating Catriona Matthew in a play-off, the LPGA Championship.

It means she’ll head for St Andrews and the Ricoh Women’s British Open at the beginning of next month on the cusp of greatness, although, unfortunately for Park, she’ll also have to win the French-based Evian Championship in September as well to claim that grand slam as it has been added to the major schedule for the first time this year.

The women’s game has produced some outstanding talent over past couple of decades, Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa, the winner at St Andrews in 2007, being chief among them, but the current world No 1 is taking the bar up to a new level.

Ian Macniven, the long-time golf correspondent for the Edinburgh Evening News and my mentor, never had a high regard for women’s golf, a sentiment, sadly, that appears to be shared by the vast majority of male golfers.

He knew a good golfer, though, and even the “Large One”, as he was affectionately known, would surely have been viewing Park’s achievements so far this season with a glint of admiration.