WHILE an admirer of Jordan Spieth for his loyalty, Paul McGinley believes the Grand Slam-chasing American will have his work cut out in this week’s Open Championship due to the fact he’ll be under-prepared for links golf.
As the likes of Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar and Jimmy Walker were getting acclimatised to seaside golf in the Scottish Open at Gullane, Spieth was on the other side of the Atlantic playing in the John Deere Classic in Illinois. It’s an event that is close to the 21-year-old’s heart, having recorded his first PGA Tour triumph in it two years ago on an invitation – a success that earned him the last spot in the following week’s Open Championship at Muirfield.
As for Tiger, I don’t think he has shown form that would suggest he has a chance of winning itPaul McGinley
Spieth will not arrive at St Andrews until this morning, meaning he’ll have just three days to prepare on a course he’s played only once before – with his American team-mates before the 2011 Walker Cup at Royal Aberdeen. “I don’t want to criticise Jordan because I admire what he’s doing, it’s more about loyalty than anything else,” said McGinley, last year’s Ryder Cup-winning captain at Gleneagles, of Spieth playing in the PGA Tour event instead of coming over early to Scotland to get ready for his bid to complete the third leg of the Grand Slam after landing both the Masters and US Open already this season.
“He made a commitment before he won two major championships and he’s honouring that commitment – that’s to be admired not criticised. It’ll be interesting to see as his career develops whether he’ll go down the road of preparing for the Open because it is a very different form of golf. It’s like tennis. Everyone knows that playing a lush, inland golf course is very different than playing a links course. Can you prepare yourself in a couple of days to win? Guys have done that in the past [Todd Hamilton picked up the Claret Jug at Troon in 2004 the week after finishing 57th in the John Deere event] but 95 per cent of the Open winners in the last 20 years have played some kind of links the week before.
“I believe you should, like tennis players do, be practising on the same surface you play in the major. He’s not putting the odds in his favour, put it that way.”
Spieth’s approach to this major is in stark contrast to the US Open, having prepared meticulously for last month’s test at Chambers Bay, where he claimed the spoils after compatriot Dustin Johnson three-putted the last from around 15 feet. “Jordan played 63 holes of practice there,” noted McGinley. “He had a caddie who used to caddie there and was married there. Are you telling me that wasn’t the difference of one shot whether he won the US Open or not?”
In a sense, Spieth had the advantage of local knowledge at Chambers Bay, but that won’t be the case this week at a venue where McGinley believes it is akin to having an extra club in the bag. “The yardage books are so good nowadays, but around St Andrews the yardage book goes out the window,” said the Irishman. “That’s why lines off the tee are essential. It can vary so much where you hit the ball. You can play St Andrews in more ways than any other course in the world, depending on the wind and the lie you have.
“Take 14. If you do get it on the fairway and you’ve got a bad lie, can you get it over Hell Bunker? Then it’s amazing how far left you can go, and then, depending on the pin position, you can go further left and be hitting down the green. There’s probably more local knowledge in St Andrews than any other golf course, and that’s to Jordan’s disadvantage.”
More than ever, following changes that have stretched the Old Course for its most recent Opens, McGinley believes it is a paradise for the big-hitters and reckons the driver rather than a putter could be the key club for the event’s 144th staging. “If you are a betting man, the odds are very much in favour of the big hitter,” he said. “They’ve got so many things that are in their favour around St Andrews. Louis [Oosthuizen] won last time and, in the last round on that occasion, he played with Paul Casey, who is showing an amazing amount of form in America. They’re the kind of players I’m looking at to win.
“As for Tiger [Woods], I don’t think he’s shown any form that would suggest he has a justifiable chance of winning it. Having said that, Tiger knows his way around St Andrews and I’d be very interested to see who Jordan plays practice rounds with next week. He’s a clever guy, he’ll have thought this out and it’ll be interesting to see who he goes with. You can gain so much information about how to play the golf course. Nick Faldo had those notes from Gerald Micklem, pages on pages of notes from Gerald that he still referred to when he won the Open there in 1990.
“You can learn a lot from listening to people and Jordan is the sort of humble guy who will sit down and listen. Tiger is a very clever course manager and knows his way around. But he doesn’t play a game that is similar to Jordan’s. And while Nick won around there, the new tee boxes that have been put in over the years have really changed the golf course.”