Leave it to the R&A to continue returning to a course that many of the players in the field strongly dislike. Golfers whine on the level of NBA players after committing a foul, it’s just not the type of whining that is so easily identifiable. Golfers take shots off the record, they make subtle jabs after their round, but if they don’t like a course–you’ll hear about it. It’s usually the fodder for good quotes, because while spoiled, the PGA and European Tours certainly employ a few sharp wits. Royal St. George’s, or Sandwich, is probably the most derided of all major venues. Asked where he’d put the course in the Open Rota, Mark Calcavecchia said, “Dead Last.” Steve Elkington once famously said that Royal St. George’s was his 10th favorite Open course. They only play nine. Even Jack Nicklaus, depending on the story you believe, may have taken a quick shot at Sandwich over the years.
Why do they keep playing it? I’d imagine because the R&A isn’t particularly interested in what a couple of players have to say about the course. The Open Rota seems to be a combination of tradition, suitable golf courses, suitable venues in terms of infrastructure, and the right connections. For now, Royal St. George’s still has the bases covered. So, this week they’ll return to Sandwich to play a baked out links course that might award a major championship with all the discretion of a Mega Millions jackpot. The last time the R&A visited Ben Curtis beat a distinguished throng of challengers and temporarily earned the nickname, “Ben Who?”
The course will get a lot of the attention this week. The gripe with the layout seems to be its propensity for punishing good shots and the numerous blind holes. The area is also in a two-year drought so expect the rough to be wispy, and the fairways to be like concrete. Of course, there is always the chance it could rain buckets and blow up a gale too (according to weather.com, the forecast actually looks decent). But, if we can get past the course, what else is there to talk about this week?
The obvious answer is Rory McIlroy, who cruised to a victory in the U.S. Open last month and hasn’t played since. The media took a win that hardly needed hyperbole and put their fingerprints all over it anyway, essentially claiming that on the Monday after Father’s Day we all woke up in what was now the “Rory Era.” Apparently one dominant win (the THIRD of his entire career) on a course tailor-made for his strengths erased all doubts. McIlroy is installed as the betting favorite for the championship, and apparently this is a position he’ll hold for the next dozen years while he runs down Tiger and Jack. The only one managing expectations seems to be Rory’s manager, Chubby Chandler, who warned that Royal St. George’s doesn’t quite suit Rory’s game.
Well, if doesn’t suit the game of the kid who is going to win 10 of the next 20 majors, who could it possibly suit? What about Americans? The Americans may have a good chance to end their major drought at Atlanta Athletic Club next month, but the task of winning at Sandwich seems almost insurmountable. Tiger isn’t playing. Phil has a new “attitude and approach” this week, but he’s piled up exactly 1 top-ten in his British Open career. Expect more head scratching from him. In the usual suspects category, Steve Stricker and Matt Kuchar seem more likely to post a T-11 than a win, and the young guys (Watney, DJ, Mahan, Bubba etc) will likely hate the place and blow up. If an American wins they’ll likely come from the anonymous chase pack.
From a European standpoint, I think a lot of people expect this will finally be Lee Westwood’s major. Or perhaps, World number one, Luke Donald’s. What if Italy’s Matteo Manassero were to hoist the Claret Jug? Would that start the Matteo era? I think it would also be his 3rd worldwide win. Perhaps we have to stretch a bit further than Europe. Jason Day? Is there another South African we don’t really know about out there? Is there any way a veteran like Ernie Els could make a last stand? Doubtful. I fear this week could produce a leaderboard only a golfer could love, but there will still be novelty of waking up and being able to flip on the live golf telecast. Everyone still loves doing that, right?
If I’m picking a winner, I really don’t know where to start. Maybe the Americans will end the drought when you least expect it. What does Robert Garrigus think of links golf? In Ben Crane in the field? Maybe there’s a Ben connection. I need this year’s Curtis. I think I’ll settle on…
- Brandt Snedeker
- Lee Westwood
- K.J. Choi
- Robert Rock
- Freddie Jacobson
- Matteo Manassero
- Chris Wood
- Luke Donald
- Justin Leonard
- Nick Watney
Snedeker is 125-1, so go ahead and make a nice little nest egg on that one. I’ll just be rooting for David Duval until he makes quadrangle on the 3rd hole and then I’ll have to wait and see how it shakes out. Enjoy the festivities, and remember she starts early, ESPN tomorrow at 4 am. Set your devices.