For the final time this year, the TFE team gathered around the roundtable for a men’s major championship preview. Get those alarm clocks set, the Open Championship begins in less than 24 hours!
Do we apply enough scrutiny to Open Championship golf courses? Is there too much deference given to their history and, in general, links golf in the golf course analyses for this major?
Will Knights: Americans don’t, that’s for sure. And I definitely include myself in that. Maybe it’s the fact that we’re groggy while up at 3 a.m. Our tendency seems to be a belief that the folks in the UK and Ireland set up and maintain the courses correctly solely because they are in the UK and Ireland. In general, I am a much bigger proponent of letting courses play as nature allows instead of making a gimmick of the whole thing, and I do think the R&A does a better job of that than the USGA or PGA at this point. That said, if Americans scrutinized Open courses like they do U.S. Open courses, there would be a lot more gnashing of teeth this time of year.
Garrett Morrison: When the R&A and its preferred architecture firm Mackenzie & Ebert reroute a par 3 so that it plays toward the coast, creating an awkward reverse walk to the next tee, and decorate said par 3 with sand scrapes that recall an American resort aesthetic more than they do the austere look of Hoylake’s natural linksland, scrutiny is warranted. The same could be said of the new, modern-feeling runoffs around the par-3 13th green, or of several green complexes on the front nine (Nos. 1, 2, 5, 9) that various consulting architects have reshaped in contemporary styles over the past three decades. Royal Liverpool is an old course. So are the rest of the rota venues. I hope they see their age as an asset, not as a deficiency to be covered up with 21st-century design flourishes. That said, the Open is the original and—in my opinion—best major, and the courses are marvels of agronomy and fun for all levels of play. So some deference is appropriate.
Brendan Porath: I think greater scrutiny tends to come with certain setup and conditioning choices and on larger course architecture, the approach is generally one of deference. Maybe that’s appropriate given the history and genre of championship golf. But I’d also like to see further discussion and debate (not necessarily to the level of when Augusta changed No. 11), especially at courses that have been through so many changes over the years, such as this week’s host.
What are your thoughts on internal OB?
Garrett: Quick note right off the bat: the term “internal OB” is a bit misleading when it comes to Royal Liverpool. The out-of-bounds lines in question—on Nos. 3 and 8—run along the tops of berms, or “cops,” that define the boundaries of a very old enclosure. This enclosure, now a practice area, has been there since the beginning of the course, as have the cops. They’ve always played as hazards, and currently play as OB for members. They are not arbitrary creations of the R&A.
Andy Johnson: Variety is the spice of life. Would I like every week on Tour to be littered with internal OB? No. But in the case of Royal Liverpool, out of bounds has been a fundamental defining feature of their golf course since its inception, when they only had rights to certain pieces of the land for golf. So even though their property has expanded, I am all-in on OB being a fundamental feature, not a bug, of this week’s test. Out of bounds has an amazing impact on how the best golfers in the world approach a hole. Stroke and distance is the most feared penalty in the game, and it should be fascinating to watch tee shots on the 3rd and 18th in particular. I expect a lot of bailouts to undesirable locations, while brave souls who successfully take on the OB line will reap rewards. One other thought on the topic, as we noted in ClubTFE this week: one of Hoylake’s prominent holes featuring out of bounds, The Dowie, has been lost.
Brendan: I am all for making things slightly more challenging and mentally taxing for the “pampered f**ks,” especially when there’s a historical reason behind it. If this were a dense forest or a sea of gorse or a water hazard, would there be similar questions about its presence? When the course’s original design intent allows for it, we should absolutely demand more of our best players. This should be a crucible.
Will: After saying above that we give too much deference to the UK clubs, if they play a hole with internal OB on a day-to-day basis, who are we to say they’re wrong? And it’ll get under the skin of some players, which is always a plus.
Shane Bacon: The beauty of links golf is that certain things just simply don’t make a lot of sense. If you’ve played Prestwick, you know what I mean here. If you’ve spent time around the loop at the Old Course you know what I mean. So yes, it might be strange and quirky and all that, but pretty much every true links course in the world has something a little deranged about it. Sign me up.
Are the Beatles overrated?
Andy: I can’t believe we are doing this. My answer is an emphatic NO. Any band that could play a three-hour concert and not get to all their hits cannot be overrated.
Brendan: Well that’s the point, no? Just crowning hits left and right, dominating sometimes because, hey, they’re the Beatles. I don’t think they’re overrated, but crowbarring Beatles references into everything this week is certainly overrated.
Garrett: The earlier the Beatles album, the more underrated; the later, the more overrated. Critics have traditionally preferred the band’s experimental late period to its “Beatlemania” phase, but early tracks like “I Saw Her Standing There,” “She Loves You,” and “Twist and Shout” have a raw energy that must have been astonishing in the early 60s and still resonates today. I would give just about anything to time-travel back to 1962-63 and see the Beatles at the Cavern Club in Liverpool; reportedly their live show, featuring overdriven guitars they couldn’t record effectively until the mid-60s, was exhilarating. Compare that vibe to “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” Outta here with that goofy shit, Paul. (Can you tell I’ve been dying to write about the Beatles? I don’t care if it was a joke question.)
Which top-15 player are you most concerned about this week? Or any other name players you do not expect much from at Hoylake?
Will: Matt Fitzpatrick. Well, I’m both concerned and in awe of him at the moment. His Monday press conference was pretty raw and unfiltered. “A good finish, all jokes aside, would be kind of top 30 this week,” he said. “ I’ve not played well in Opens in previous [years], and I wouldn’t say I’m in the best form, either, so I’ve got to be realistic about where I am.”
Andy: I’m not going to answer this question correctly but can we talk about how Collin Morikawa and Justin Thomas aren’t top-15 players?!?!?! A year ago this development would have been absolutely inconceivable. I have more optimism for Morikawa than Justin Thomas this week. JT appears to be lost deep in Golf Swing Forest.
Meg Adkins: In the first three majors of the year, Max Homa has gone T-43 at the Masters, T-55 at Oak Hill, and missed the cut at LACC. Those results would’ve surprised anyone earlier this year, when Homa came out of the gates hot with a win in January at Torrey and a second place finish in February at Riviera. There are signs of life in Homa’s game after a T-12 finish last week at the Scottish Open, but it’ll take a big improvement from his best Open finish of T-40 in 2021 for him to nab his first top ten in a major.
Shane: It’s wild to even bring up the name Jon Rahm considering what we saw earlier in the year, but it’s been a pretty spotty run since that win at Augusta. And no, I’m not counting the win in Mexico as impressive. It was the Mexico Open. In the two majors since the Masters, Rahm has had as many rounds of 73 or higher as he has rounds in the 60s, so let’s just say I’m keeping a close eye on him, especially in the opening round.
Brendan: These are all good choices to keep an eye on this week. I’ll go with Patrick Cantlay, who is having a phenomenal statistical season despite not bagging a win. That said, last year was the first time he made the slightest bit of noise at an Open, posting a Wiki yellow T8. The Scottish did not go well for him last week. He does have the creative touch to excel at an Open, I just haven’t seen it much yet here (or at any major, really.) Of the top five to ten players, I’d proceed with the most caution around Cantlay.
Photo credit: Sam Cooper
One thing you love about Royal Liverpool? One thing you’re eager to observe more in the coming week?
Andy: Diagonal tee shots. What I mean by this is that many holes at Hoylake move on a diagonal to the tee box. It forces players to pick a line and a distance. Unlike a straightforward bombs away hole, tee shots that move on an angle force a little extra precision as players are forced to control their distance while picking a line. You’ll see a few examples down the stretch this week at the 12th and 14th.
I am excited to see the new 17th. I’m not sure I love the decision to create a new hole on a historic links course, but I am interested to see how it plays out. I almost don’t want it to succeed for fear of this leading to more Open rota courses drastically altering their properties in favor of Martin Ebert original designs.
Brendan: I love the bunkers. They seem to be especially penal, even by Open rota standards. There is some consternation about the shapes of the bottom of these bunkers not “bowling”, leading to the ball gravitating to the center, but rather being flat, which can keep balls closer to the lip. The raking has also earned some attention, as the rakes hae been creating mini-troughs that aren’t friendly enough to the pros. Finding fairway bunkers makes it impossible to get home in two, creating the kind of true hazard that the Rough Riders here in the States can only dream of. The wind may or may not materialize, but the bunkers and internal OB will be there all week serving as unique, thought-provoking challenges for many American-based players.
Garrett: Terror. The OB. The bunkers. The cops (and I don’t mean the police). There’s real jeopardy lurking at Hoylake, real stakes. Which means this weekend could be very tense for the contenders.
Understanding our affinity for the Open and links golf, is this the least anticipated or exciting men’s major this year for you personally? Where are you right now with the 151st Open?
Brendan: It has come up on us quickly and without much buildup, I would say. I think following the 150th at St. Andrews was always going to be a tough spot for this championship. Combined with the showpiece of a U.S. Open at LACC, it does feel like this Open has snuck up on people. That’s not to say I don’t love having this championship in the cleanup spot on the men’s major schedule, though maybe the organizers feel differently about that. Regardless of pregame hype and pablum, it’s still an Open. That’s often enough to deliver a memorable, exhilarating four days of golf.
Garrett: After LACC, I’m no longer in the business of setting expectations for majors. It could be bad. It could be good! Who knows? (If there’s wind, it will be good.)
Meg: The Open is a close second to The Masters for me, if I had to rank the majors. Regardless of venue or how it stacks up against the other three majors of the year, anticipation is always high when the Open rolls around.
Will: It’s not the least anticipated because I wasn’t all that excited about Oak Hill. But as Garrett said, I think we all learned a lesson at LACC.
Shane: I’ve found that the majors with the least pop heading into them are the ones that usually provide the most exciting weekends (Chambers Bay, Bellerive, and St. George’s a couple of years ago come to mind) so the calm heading in might turn out to be a benefit.
Like Phil or Henrik or Ernie of the last decade, is there an older veteran that piques your interest this week?
Andy: I feel like Adam Scott is the perpetual answer to this question but this week I am going to focus on 37-year-old Keegan Bradley (sorry for taking this opportunity from you, Garrett.) An elite ball-striker currently experiencing a resurgence which will likely land him on the Ryder Cup team, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him take an Open down.
Brendan: It’s been 25 years since Justin Rose burst onto the scene at the Open. That’s a long time ago, though he’s still only 42. Despite his roots, Rose has never played the Open particularly well. But he is having a strong, resurgent year, and he’s improved his Open consistency in the last decade.
Shane: Nobody has answered Padraig Harrington yet??? He might win! And excuse me, that’s 2023 European Ryder Cupper Padraig Harrington.
Meg: Bacon beat me to it! I can’t wait to watch Padraig this week, and it’ll be fantastic theater if he’s in contention and paired up with a young gun on the weekend.
Will: Lol, no old is winning this week.
Urgency is in the air. It’s the last major opportunity of the year to add to the resume. The Ryder Cup is bearing down. Who is the American with the most to prove or gain this week?
Will: Max Homa. No one puts more pressure on Homa at majors than himself, but we’re getting to a point where his lack of major success is impossible to ignore. The guy has been a top-25 player for the better part of the last three years and yet he has just one major finish better than T-40.
Andy: Cameron Young. After last year’s Open, Young was tabbed as a rising star. One year later and in a slump, his chances of making the Ryder Cup appear to be fading. Young has undergone a couple of caddie changes in an effort to “get him over the hump”, but now he is further from the hump than before those changes happened. I wonder if he ever wishes he could go back to having his best friend on the bag, who got him close so many times a year ago.
Shane: Tony Finau has been quite horrendous since he won in Mexico, falling all the way down to 18th in the standings. If Tony can utilize his change-up, get-me-over driver approach to find fairways at a venue that requires it, he could contend on Sunday. If he does, he would be adding to a resume that needs a couple more good finishes in order to land a spot in Rome.
Within reason, what would be your ideal or best case scenario playing out this week? It could be a winner, something related to the course, the coverage, whatever…
Garrett: In 1926, the golf architect Robert Hunter wrote something that could easily have been written this week: “For the best golfers there are few really testing shots on even the most difficult of courses. When one watches the Titans at play, their tremendous drives often make their seconds absurdly easy. Holes of 440 yards are sometimes reduced to the drive-and-pitch variety, and their accuracy is often so machine-like that the game seems silly. But such golf is much more frequently seen inland than by the sea. Place these same Titans on links-land and what a difference when the wind blows! There only are championships in Britain held, and there only, after all, can the real champion be sifted out from the many fine golfers of the present day. The man who can play his shots in a gale and control them at the finish to some of the glassy seaside greens, richly deserves the title.”
In other words, I want it to be windy. Need it.
Brendan: I think this is a best case scenario that is also reasonable: the game’s foremost active superstar on a decade-long drought (Rory), the most popular star never to have won a major (Rickie), and the pariah circus star who’s shown he can find it in his old age (Phil), all battling down the stretch. What a show that would be!
Meg: Playing in the elements is synonymous with links golf and the Open, but it’s been four years since we’ve seen the wind really show its teeth at the Open. Covid canceled the 2020 edition, while mild conditions persisted throughout the week at both Royal St. George’s and St. Andrews. I’m with Garrett on this one. Bring on the wind.
Shane: To echo what Porath said, Rory versus Scottie in a Troon-like match play situation would be JUICY.
Who’s your pick to win and why?
Garrett: Scottie Scheffler—because he has been gaining three strokes per round tee to green, and because the putts have to start falling at some point. I mean, really. They have to start falling at some point. Right?
Meg: Rickie gets it done. Orange goes great with the Claret Jug too, right?
Will: I can’t make him my pick to win because I’m a chicken, but Min Woo Lee is going to make some serious noise this week. Rory McIlroy is going to win though. We thought the Hollywood storyline was going to be Rory winning at St. Andrews, but an even more satisfying script would be one in which he suffers through disappointment last year, deals with another year of LIV bullsh**, and comes out to win at Royal Liverpool for the second time.
Shane: It’s finally Tommy Time. I’m going Fleetwood.
Brendan: Going back to the well of major Brooks, who is back as much as ever this year. I think he’s the most disciplined player in the field and often the most unaffected by bad conditions or crap breaks. He’s made eight Open starts, and finished in the top 10 in half of them. He’s as good a choice as any in the 156-man field, including Scottie and Rory.
Andy: I toiled with this for days, and I am going to the hottest player on the planet: Rory McIlroy. He’s had two close calls in his last four majors. This week he gets it done.
This piece originally appeared in The Fried Egg newsletter. Subscribe for free and receive golf news and insight every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.