Sandwich Open was tasty but road network is headache for R&A

We’d been made to wait 12 months longer than usual due to Covid turning the world we know upside down, but, in the end, that didn’t really change anything.
The 18th hole arena at Royal St George's for the 149th Open at Royal St George’s. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty Images.The 18th hole arena at Royal St George's for the 149th Open at Royal St George’s. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty Images.
The 18th hole arena at Royal St George's for the 149th Open at Royal St George’s. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty Images.

From start to finish at Royal St George’s, we were all reminded exactly why we love The Open and, in actual fact, the delay in staging the 149th edition added to the eagerly-anticipated spectacle.

Hosting the event for the first time since 2011, the Sandwich course isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and four-time major winner Brooks Koepka admitted he wasn’t a fan on his first visit.

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Some players hate hitting blind shots and, at this particular venue, it’s unfortunate that there are a couple of shots that come on back-to-back holes - the tee shot at the fourth and second at the fifth.

At the same time, though, it has some really good holes, particularly on the back nine and, on this occasion due to the sting having been taken out of them by heavy rain in the build up, there were no real moans about bad bounces on the fairways with their adverse cambers.

Saturday’s third round was a bit flat as the top three spots remained unchanged and, a charge from Koepka apart, it was also a quiet start to the final circuit on Sunday by the leading contenders.

From the seventh hole onwards, though, it was golf at its best as Collin Morikawa in particular but also Jordan Spieth, Louis Oosthuizen, Jon Rahm and Bob MacIntyre, too, all played a part in showing why this event is so special.

In the end, Morikawa emerged as a worthy winner, producing a polished bogey-free closing effort, as he did when winning his first major in the 2020 US PGA Championship in San Francisco.

He’s the first player to win two majors on debut appearances, a truly remarkable achievement and, on the evidence he’s provided since turning pro just two years, this is just the start for the young Californian.

As much as the players, this event was about the fans, with the R&A having been given the green light to host it in front of a sizable attendance over the course of the week as part of a UK Government experiment involving the biggest sporting occasions.

More than 150,000 spectators were out on the course over the week on the Kent coast and there was no hiding how happy they were to be part of something that actually felt normal or as normal as you can expect at the moment.

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We’ve all heard the likes of Tom Watson, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods heap praise on British fans over the years, of course, due to their knowledge of the game and not shouting and screaming all the time over every shot.

It was nice, though, to hear that the new wave of top Americans, including Morikawa, Spieth and even Bryson DeChambeau, acknowledge that fact early on in their careers as well as that is part of The Open experience for players.

This wasn’t an easy Claret Jug event for the R&A to stage due to the fact we are still not out of the Covid-19 woods, meaning the players had to stay in strict bubbles and staff involved in the running of the event also had to be kept apart to cut down on the chance of contact tracing having an impact.

That the tournament was completed without a single player falling foul of that was testament to the measures put in place and hats off to R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers and his trusty team in that respect.

When will the event be back at Royal St George’s? A decade or so probably, but here’s hoping that something is finally done about the road and path network close to the course because, quite frankly, it makes getting to Carnoustie in Open week seem like motorway access in comparison.

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