OLD habits die hard. As his playing partners in a practice round headed off the 18th green on the Old Course, there was Bernhard Langer still checking yardages at the back of the giant putting surface.
When it comes to preparation, no-one is more meticulous than the German. Once told a yardage by Colin Montgomerie when they were Ryder Cup team-mates, Langer asked the Scot: “Is that from the front of the sprinkler or the back?”
Taking that sort of fine detail into account, as well as the fact this is his seventh Open Championship appearance at St Andrews, it was pretty shrewd of debutant Russell Knox, therefore, to play one of his warm-up rounds this week with Langer.
“Bernhard and I have similar games,” said the 30-year-old of deciding to put his name alongside that of the two-times Masters champion on the starting sheet – a practice Tiger Woods adopted earlier in his career as he picked the brains of more experienced players.
“There is no point in me following around Tiger as he hits it 40 yards past me, whereas Bernhard and I hit it similar distances. It is nice to see how someone picks their way around a course like this and hopefully it is going to help.
“It was really fun. I just wanted to see how he went about his day and prepared for it. He has played here so many times and he is still grinding on every hole and getting yardages. I didn’t really ask him too many questions. I just sat back and watched how he did it. Everyone is so different in practice rounds. If you can learn something that might help you by watching someone else, then it is worth it.”
As second reserve, Knox kicked his heels all day 12 months ago without getting the chance to tee off at Royal Liverpool. He’s known for nearly a week that he’ll definitely get a taste of the action on this occasion and, in fact, is out in the third match at just before 7am.
“I’m not sure how early I will need to set my alarm for,” he said, smiling. “I don’t get to tee off at that time too often, certainly not by choice. It will be interesting, but at least the first fairway is 150 yards wide.
“As for expectations, I haven’t really thought about it. I know I am capable of competing. With the weather forecast, a lot of it is going to depend on if you can get on the good side of the draw. I think that is going to be very important. I love links golf and I have a lot of experience playing links golf. I am comfortable and swinging well, so there is no reason why I can’t do well.”
While Knox is playing the Old Course as a professional for the first time, his five compatriots are all seasoned campaigners around here. Sandy Lyle, for instance, is playing his eighth Open at St Andrews, where two others, Paul Lawrie and Stephen Gallacher, have tasted victory in the Dunhill Links.
“Any time you come to St Andrews you get a good vibe, but knowing you can win here is definitely a good thing,” said Gallacher, who is looking for a spark this week after seeing his frustrating recent spell continue with a missed cut in the Scottish Open at Gullane.
“That was obviously in a different situation but if you can get into contention you can draw on past performances and experiences on certain golf courses. It was great to get my first European Tour win here. You think about the people who’ve walked across the bridge as winners and it’s magic to be one of them. To miss the cut last week by a shot around a course I know well was bad, but I feel my game is not far away at all.”
2015 OPEN SCOTS
The 1985 winner is making his 40th appearance.
The 1999 champion won a Dunhill Links on this course.
He tasted victory in the same event in 2004.
Only made his Open debut at Muirfield two years ago.
The debutant got in when Rory McIlroy withdrew.
The last man into the field after Tim Clark pulled out.