Old Course can still bite Bryson DeChambeau in 150th Open

“I quite like Bryson DeChambeau, he’s a breath of fresh air,” commented one St Andrews caddie, to which another replied: “Aye, but he’ll be finished in five years’ time swinging it like that.”

Winner Danny Willett tees off on the 18th hole during the final round of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at The Old Course on Sunday. Picture: Matthew Lewis/Getty Images.
Winner Danny Willett tees off on the 18th hole during the final round of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at The Old Course on Sunday. Picture: Matthew Lewis/Getty Images.

The exchange was sparked by this correspondent raising the American’s name out on the Old Course, having found myself standing on every tee during a hit in the Alfred Dunhill Challenge on Monday wondering if the green would be in range for DeChambeau.

Based on his epic 417-yard drive at Whistling Straits in the recent Ryder Cup as well some other mighty hits to finish seventh in the Professional Long Drivers Association World Championships in Nevada at the weekend, it could be as many as nine.

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If it’s flat calm, as it luckily was for myself and three media colleagues on this occasion, fears being expressed about DeChambeau taking the ‘Old Lady’ apart, perhaps even breaking 60, in next year’s 150th Open are genuine, so let’s not kid ourselves about that.

Using last week’s 20th Alfred Dunhill Links Championship as the perfect example, though, it will be no pushover for the 2020 US Open champion, who was fair chuffed with himself for achieving a ball speed of 219mph in that big-hitters’ battle, if the wind starts blowing.

Take Saturday, for example, when that was the case and it was dreich into the bargain. Bob MacIntyre and Thomas Pieters, both of whom get the ball out there a fair distance from the tee, hit driver then 3-wood at the par-4 465-yard 13th and didn’t reach the green.

After hitting the same clubs, they then needed a 9-iron for their third shot at the par-5 14th, which was playing at 618 yards and, interestingly, was ranked as the seventh most difficult out of all 54 holes on the three courses on that particular day with an average of 5.37.

Only four players managed birdies, which, to put it in context, was just one more than at the Road Hole. For the record, that played as the second most difficult hole across the venues on Saturday at 4.50 and you probably won’t be surprised to hear that the 18th at Carnoustie was the toughest of them all at 5.16 - ouch!

Michael Hoey and Maeve Danaher won the team event in the 20th Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. Picture: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images.

For Sunday’s final circuit at St Andrews, the wind was the strongest it had been all week but from a slightly different direction, the result being that the 11th, 12th and 13th all played above their respective par average, as did both the 16th and 17th.

With the wind helping at the last, the green was in range and two players, one of them being Richie Ramsay, took advantage of either being on the dance floor or close to it to sign off in style with eagle-2s.

Over the duration of a week that saw pro-am hole positions in operation, the eighth, 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th on the Old Course all played tougher than the par on the card and that is evidence that it can, indeed, still stand up to the big-hitters.

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A bit of what they had weather-wise for this edition of the Dunhill Links would actually do quite nicely for next July. Let it be calm on at least one of the four days and give DeChambeau the opportunity to let it rip and entertain the crowds.

But here’s hoping Mother Nature can also whip up some wind and maybe even throw in a little bit of wet stuff, too, because we want to see the Champion Golfer of the Year have the full package. Brawn might well be the biggest factor, but it should be about the brain, too, over the course of 72 holes.

Danny Willett, winner of the celebratory edition of the Dunhill Links, talked about how he’d tee shots in “A1 position” in the final round and that has come with experience of playing the course, something that could well prove the biggest obstacle for DeChambeau next summer.

It was a smart move by Billy Horschel, for example, to get himself a bit more acquainted through a Dunhill Links appearance, the fact he did so alongside his dad to coincide with Billy snr’s 70th birthday last Friday being among some great storylines on this occasion.

As has become a recurring theme, the odd comment was being aired on social media last week about the event being “really boring and past its sell by date”, but I have to say nothing seems further from the truth when it comes to the players - both professionals and amateurs - and also the fans who actually attend it.

Yes, play is painfully slow, but that’s because of a) the pro-am format and b) the double greens on the Old Course in particular impacting the pace of things and those taking part wouldn’t be there if they didn’t want to be.

It’s a matter of debate whether or not the amateurs should still be involved in the final round, but, if wasn’t for that being the case, we wouldn’t have seen Maeve Danaher, a left-hander who putts right-handed, create history as the first woman to win the team event alongside Michael Hoey on Sunday.

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This year’s event also featured North Berwick 14-year-old Grace Crawford after she secured a late spot through Scottish Golf’s valuable relationship with Johann Rupert, the chairman of Richemont, Dunhill’s parent company and, the event’s driving force.

It’s down to Rupert, coupled with long-serving tournament director Peter German, a senior vice president at IMG, that every single thing about the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship has a real touch of class.

Yes, along with lots of others, I loved the old Dunhill Cup, but its replacement has grown into something special in its own right and we should feel grateful that it is held in Scotland, becoming one of the longest-running events on the European Tour in the process.

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