PAUL Lawrie, widely regarded as one of the best in the business with a weather jacket on his shoulders, won’t be the only player wearing a smile as wide as Union Street if, as expected, it’s wet and windy in today’s opening round of the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open.
“Tomorrow is supposed to be terrible weather – I hope it is,” declared Phil Mickelson, the defending champion, in expressing a sentiment that was shared with equal enthusiasm by his fellow Californian, Rickie Fowler.
Their relish is two-fold. Firstly, both have played well in the past on a links course when the weather has turned nasty, the 2011 Open Championship at Royal St George’s being a case in point in each instance.
“I remember playing some of my best golf in that awful weather,” recalled Mickelson of an event in which he finished runner-up to Darren Clarke, “so I’m looking forward to the fact we’re going to have some rough weather here these next few days. I never get a chance to play in that stuff back home – and it’s fun.”
It was absolutely foul for Fowler when he catapulted himself through the field at Sandwich after carding a third-round 68 in conditions you’d think twice about sending your dog out in. “Brutal but fun,” said the 25-year-old of that experience. “It’s hands down the worst (conditions) I’ve played in – you couldn’t even use an umbrella because, as well as being wet, it was also blowing pretty good.”
The second reason why the American duo won’t mind if the conditions are a far cry from those they’re used to in their home state is that, unlike last year at Muirfield when it was dry and hot, it’s also expected to be wet and windy in next week’s Open Championship at Royal Liverpool. “Given the forecast (winds are expected to gust up to 28mph with rain moving in around lunchtime), having the chance to get acclimated to it this week is a great benefit,” admitted Mickelson, who, of course, will also be on duty as the defending champion on Merseyside, while, by the sounds of it, Fowler’s hope as he prepares for next week’s major title tilt is the worse, the better in terms of what Mother Nature has in store.
“With the amount of options with shots on links courses, I believe it can almost be easier playing on them in bad weather than on courses in the States,” he said. “You can run the ball on the ground and use the course a little bit more. But for the most part it’s about just going into it with the right kind of mindset and looking at it as a challenge.”
At Castle Stuart, where this event was held for the past three years, the challenge was mainly when it came to second shots, though the fact three successive Open champions – Darren Clarke, Ernie Els and Mickelson – all played there the week before their respective victories is proof that the Inverness venue helped players hone their links games.
Here, on a golf course that has staged the Senior Open Championship and a Walker Cup but never before a European Tour event, the examination will be of the stiffer variety, though perversely that has proved an attraction. Of the world’s top 60, more than a third – 23 – are in the Granite City, where the field also includes ten major champions.
“I have loved Castle Stuart as I think it’s a great modern-day designed links course,” said Mickelson, who stopped in Greece for a family holiday en route to the north east. “But Royal Aberdeen is a real asset to this tournament. It’s a beautiful course, where you’ve got to manoeuvre yourself around the bunkers and keep the ball in play.
“You also need to have a good short game and be able to produce some great lag-putting because you’ll have a lot of 60 to 100-foot chips and putts. All in all, I think this is a great preparation for next week.”
It will start with Mickelson handing back the Claret Jug, which has done the rounds at the various clubs he’s a member of back in San Diego. “I’ve left it in the locker-room while I’ve been out playing so that guys could take pictures of it and take sips out of it,” he reported.
Given he’s only managed one top-ten finish in 2014 – in Abu Dhabi – the odds looked stacked against the left-hander as he bids to repeat last year’s dream double, but feeling links turf, the greens in particular, under his feet again is creating good vibes. “The one area I’ve really struggled this year more than last year has been putting and I’ve spent the last few weeks working on that,” said the 44-year-old. “As a result, I’m excited to come over here and putt because last year I had some of the best two putting weeks I’ve had.”
Based on the fact he was joint-fifth in The Masters then equal second in the US Open, every aspect of Fowler’s game looks to be tickety-boo heading into a double-header where he’s aiming to prosper from the skills he learned a long way from either Royal Aberdeen or Royal Liverpool. “With links golf, you have to create your own shot and because of that I think the Open is going to be one of my better chances (of winning a major),” he added.
In addition to a £3 million prize pot – the winner picks up £500,000 – three spots at Hoylake are also up for grabs over the next four days, though a top-10 finish is also required for one of those to be secured.