Remember the last time the courses in East Lothian were burnt to a crisp? Muirfield, of course, for the 2013 Open Championship and, for the first two days at least, few players coped with that fast-running test better than Martin Laird. The US-based Scot, therefore, is relishing a similar challenge in this week’s Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open.
The recent dry spell has left Gullane looking a lot different to when Rickie Fowler triumphed in the event’s first staging here in 2015. Green back then, the fairways are now golden brown. Distance control is going to be extremely difficult as shots are landed short of greens and left to run out.
Having developed a high ball flight for the week-to-week tests he’s faced with on the PGA Tour, you’d think this sort of examination wouldn’t suit. Not so. Far from it, in fact. “It’s fun,” said the 35-year-old, who used to live in Arizona but now has a home in Charlotte, South Carolina. “Muirfield was the last time we had a links course for The Open playing this fast.
“I’m always excited to come back and play links golf but when you see it like this it makes me even more excited because it’s so different to what we all play most of the time. I hit it so low when I went over to the States, but I don’t think when it’s this fast you want to hit it low because you literally can’t stop it. The only way you can have a hope of checking it is by bringing it in high and hoping it doesn’t get a downhill bounce.
“I was playing well at Muirfield (he opened with rounds of 70 and 71 to sit just two off the lead before crashing out of contention with an 81 in the wind on the Saturday) when it was like this because I felt that hitting it high gave me an advantage when it gets this firm. If you hit it low with a 7-iron, you’ve no chance of stopping it at all, whereas if you can hit a big high one you’ve at least got half a chance on some of the holes.”
Laird arrived back in Scotland on Saturday and got his first taste of just how bouncy the seaside courses are playing with a hit at Lundin with his dad, Charles. “We just played nine holes. We teed off at 8pm and no one was out there. It was brilliant. It’s always nice to get out and get the travel stiffness out of me, loosen the back up a bit and get out with my dad to enjoy conditions like this,” he added.
After winning three times on the PGA Tour between 2009 and 2013, Laird has been upstaged on the US circuit in recent seasons by Russell Knox, who is heading into this week’s event on a high after winning the Irish Open at Ballyliffin on Sunday. That success came on the back of a second-place finish for Knox in the French Open, the double-whammy lifting him back into the world’s top 50.
“We’ve become friends,” said Laird of his compatriot. “We played the team event in New Orleans together this year and we’re good mates now, so obviously I was really happy to see how well he’s played in these last two weeks. Winning in Ireland was brilliant and it’s encouraging for him – and for me – to come over and try to get in the mix. I’d like to get in there and do what he’s been doing.
“He’s obviously been playing well and I feel like I’m playing well even though my results haven’t been great these last few weeks. Hopefully this can be the turnaround.
“I’m looking for a little three or four-week stretch like he’s had, that would be very nice because we’ve got a nice run of tournaments coming up.”
Not since Colin Montgomerie achieved the feat at Loch Lomond in 1999 has a home player won the Scottish Open. “For me, it would rank really highly, right behind the majors in terms of the titles you want to win. It’s my national tournament so I’d put it right there behind the majors,” said Laird.
“The reason I come back every year and try to do it is because I just love it and if I was to win it would be one I would definitely look back on as one of the greatest, if not the absolute highlight of my career. If I didn’t win a major it would be the absolute peak that I’d relish the most, winning in front of a home crowd.
“Even in the couple of years where I’ve had a chance, it’s been really fun being in the mix and having people cheer for me. You know, I only really get home support once a year! I don’t hear too many people in America shouting ‘come on Martin’ but sometimes over here when you’re playing well you get it. It’s really nice.”