Open champions beomoan ‘softly, softly’ test in build up to Portrush

Henrik Stenson at the 18th hole at The Renaissance Club. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty Images
Henrik Stenson at the 18th hole at The Renaissance Club. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty Images
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It was a Swede and sour day for Henrik Stenson. On the one hand, he was delighted with a bogey-free 65 in his first outing since last month’s US Open. On the other, though, a rain-softened modern links is not really what he’s looking for this week in the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open – and he’s not alone.

Six of the last nine Open Championship winners, including Stenson himself at Royal Troon in 2016, played in the Scottish Open the previous week. The chances of that theme continuing next week at Royal Portrush, though, may not have been helped by a combination of the Rolex Series event not being held on this occasion on a traditional links and then, on top of that, Mother Nature taking the sting out of it.

“It is a nice piece of land,” said Stenson of The Renaissance Club, which is staging its first European Tour event. “As of now, the biggest difference, or the one thing we are not super happy about, is that we have had so much rain and it is getting soft.

“You want to be in the mindset of landing a pitching wedge five or six paces short of the pin and skipping forward. But, all of a sudden, they are now spinning back. It’s almost like you have to force yourself in the other direction.”

He’d have preferred a “more linksy” test this week, admitting that “target golf”, even though it didn’t do him any harm as he made six birdies to have the leaders in his sights at the end of the opening day, isn’t the best preparation for the season’s final major. That view was echoed by two-time Open champion Padraig Harrington, even though he also got off to a promising start on the East Lothian coast with a 67.

“I like the venue and I like the golf course,” said the Ryder Cup captain of Tom Doak’s design. “It’s perhaps nearly too nice a venue – maybe a trickier more linksy golf course would offer better preparation for next week. But the course is lovely, it plays very nice.

“I don’t mind a softly, softly test, but I’d probably want it slightly different. Last week’s course at the Irish Open was very similar to Portrush. Here it’s bigger greens, bigger targets. So, while I like this course it’s not really the same as next week. Next week will be just a little bit smaller and tighter whereas this is just a bigger concept out there. But everything about it is great for a tournament – the clubhouse and facilities are excellent.”

Stenson, who paid a visit to Portrush before heading here, described the 16th hole, a par-3 called Calamity, as a “bit of a beast” after playing it for the first time. “I spoke to [R&A chief executive] Martin Slumbers and I think we might not play it from all the way back,” he reported. “You don’t want to be off the back tees if it is into the wind.”