The final men’s major championship of 2022 has the makings of an all-timer. It’s the 150th Open Championship; the venue is a crispy, potentially blustery Old Course at St. Andrews; Tiger Woods is in attendance, alongside a roster of in-form stars from the generation he inspired; and bubbling under the surface is the most consequential schism the competitive game has seen since the formation of the modern PGA Tour.
To get our heads around all of these storylines—as well as to make a handful of inevitably incorrect picks and predictions—the Fried Egg team convened tp answer a few questions.
Is the Old Course obsolete? Would a low winning score matter?
Andy Johnson (@AndyTFE): If you consider what a player shoots relative to par the mark of a major-championship test, then yes, the Old Course may be obsolete. But if you believe that the quality of a course lies in the multitude of difficult questions that it poses, then the Old Course will never be obsolete. The expansive and intricate green contours, combined with extremely firm and fast fairways that provide ample space to manuever, allow the best tacticians to rise to the top. Sure, the pros hit fewer long irons now than they did before, but that’s true at all courses. I wish that score-to-par weren’t our dominant measure of difficulty because I bet if the players were polled they would say that the Old Course demands more shot-shaping and thought than any venue they’ve seen this year. At the end of the day, that’s what you want out of championship golf: players having to think about what the right decision is and then execute a challenging shot. The Old Course delivers that in spades.
Will Knights (@willknightsTFE): Technically yes, but that doesn’t mean the Old Course should be dropped from the Open rota. Similar to how I want the U.S. Open to visit Brookline every 10-15 years, seeing the Open roll through St. Andrews every few years is such a fun walk back in time. As long as the best players continues to stand out, score doesn’t matter. Especially as we get deeper into the PGA/DP World tours vs. LIV era, keeping the focus on what makes golf special is important. It’s not about the money at St. Andrews; it’s about being a part of history.
Cameron Hurdus (@cameronhurdus): I’m not sure a low winning score would matter all that much. There have been quite a few dating back to 1990, really. But it’s telling how hard the R&A needs to work to keep the course feeling relevant. Tees are stretching deeper into adjacent courses; maintained rough is continuing to grow, eliminating a lot of the strategic interest; and bunkers have been added. So the question is, how far will the R&A have to go in 10 or 20 years in order to continue challenging players without completely destroying the Old Course?
Meg Adkins (@megadkins_TFE): There’s a good chance it will be rendered obsolete by Sunday. The Old Course that’s played the other 51 weeks of the year is already obsolete for the pros. They’ll play a routing this week that includes three additional courses and a 17th tee that’s normally out of bounds. Despite these efforts from the R&A, the Old Course 2.0 Carbonwood Edition may not have much bite left in it. If predictions of broken records and someone posting a score that starts with a “5” come true, equipment rollback could become the story of the week. And that would be a real shame. I’ll hope for the Old Course to put up a fight, but a silver lining to the pros lighting it up this week would be the governing bodies being forced into action. If the Home of Golf is obsolete, what are we even doing here?
Garrett Morrison (@garrett_TFE): A low winning score wouldn’t matter to me, but the relevant point is that it would matter to a lot of people, including the leaders of the international governing body that runs the tournament. The Open Championship’s regular visits to St. Andrews give the golf world an opportunity to level set and ask whether the technology of the game has gone too far. So part of me hopes that the field utterly blitzes the Old Course this week, and that the R&A and USGA have no choice but to introduce aggressive, comprehensive equipment regulations as soon as possible.
What most excites you about a major that feels a little different, even more elevated than most?
Will: The more excited for a golf tournament the players are, the more amped I am. They don’t grind in practice rounds at normal tour events like they do at majors, and the collective sense of anticipation that shines through in the pre-tournament press conferences ups the ante. Simply, I care more when they do.
Cameron: The Open always feels elevated to me and this year is obviously no different. Any West Coast kid remembers how early you had to get up to watch, say, Tiger play an early first round and the poor transatlantic cable feeds made it feel like it was being broadcast from the Moon. There are basically no tournaments for which I’m willing to wake up at 3 or 4 a.m. to watch a second round—except the Open.
Meg: I may be in the minority here, but I love all the pomp and circumstance around the 150th ceremonies. The Open is always understated in relation to the other majors. It doesn’t try to be anything it’s not. Nothing is manufactured or superficial. The course and the setting do most of the talking. So when it goes a bit extra like it has this week, you know it’s a big deal. This week has been billed as the biggest major in recent years, and it feels inevitable that a big name will be holding the Claret Jug on Sunday. In an era of professional golf that rarely gets the biggest names in the game together in the same place, how can you not be excited?
— The Open (@TheOpen) July 12, 2022
Andy: As is the case with the Masters and Augusta National, when the Open Championship visits the Old Course, we see golfers playing for more than just another major trophy. They are playing to join history. In his press conference on Tuesday, Rory called an Open at the Old Course “the Holy Grail.” He’s right. Winning here requires excellence from tee to green but also the ability to cope with the knowledge that you have a chance to join the illustrious and exclusive list of players who have won a major at the Home of Golf.
Is there a LIV guy you think will contend? Even win? And if so, what would that mean, if anything?
Cameron: Abraham Ancer. For me, he was the first guy where it felt like he was making the jump to LIV before he’d reached his peak on the PGA Tour, so a win from him could make some of the younger, up-and-coming stars more open to defecting. Plus, as a shorter hitter, the firm conditions could help him out this week.
Garrett: Never get involved in a land war in Asia, and never bet against Louis Oosthuizen at St. Andrews when an Open Championship is on the line. As I’m sure you’ll hear a few times on the telecast this week, Oosty has played in two Opens at the Old Course—one of them he won, and the other he lost by one stroke in a four-hole playoff. His form hasn’t been great lately, but that has never been a reason to underestimate Louis’s ability to contend in a major.
Okay, big picture: how the LIV contingent performs this week is sneakily significant. In recent weeks, anti-LIV talking points from both players and media have centered less on Saudi sportswashing and more on the dubious competitive legitimacy of Greg Norman’s upstart league. Opponents of LIV have claimed that the series stands aloof from the ecosystem of pro golf, and therefore defectors from the PGA and DP World tours should not expect to receive points in the Official World Golf Ranking or berths in the four major championships. These players, the argument goes, traded in their elite competitive status when the took the money. So that brings us to this week’s tournament. If the LIV guys—the most capable of whom include Dustin Johnson, Louis Oosthuizen, Abraham Ancer, Kevin Na, Patrick Reed, Sergio García, Talor Gooch, Paul Casey, Brooks Koepka, and Bryson DeChambeau—fizzle out at the Old Course, the idea that LIV exists apart from the competitive-golf ecosystem would be validated. If, on the other hand, a few of those players do well, or one of them wins, the pressure would ratchet up on the majors and the OWGR board to grant some accommodations to the rebels.
Andy: I don’t care how poorly he has played this year, my mind has been trained never to count Dustin Johnson out of a major championship. And I think it’s a big deal if a LIV player wins. It would provide a shred of credibility to the notion, whether valid or not, that 54-hole hit-and-giggles can yield major champions. Let’s just hope we don’t have to write or talk too much about this in the near future.
Meg: Nope. And I hope the words “LIV,” “Greg Norman,” and “Saudi Arabia” aren’t uttered once this weekend.
[Ed. note: Keep wishing, Meg.]
What would be your ideal storyline or drama coming to fruition?
Andy: How could you not say Tiger in contention? I mean, one can dream, right?
Garrett: You say you’re sick of LIV vs. the PGA Tour, but are you telling me you wouldn’t be on the edge of your seat for a climactic light-saber duel between Virtuous Rory and Duplicitous Brooks?
Meg: A Rory-Spieth showdown on Sunday. Please, please, please give me this, and I’ll never ask for anything again.
Cameron: A windy Sunday!
Better finish: Tiger or Phil?
Cameron: Lol. (Real answer is Tiger.)
Andy: Phil has been playing so poorly I bet he wishes that LIV events had a 36-hole cut so his miserable finishes would be more obscure. I’m taking the guy who has been relevant at the two majors he’s played in this year—Tiger.
Will: Somehow Tiger is going to grind out another made cut. I don’t know how, but he will. Conversely, by the time the weekend rolls around, Phil will probably be scouting Trump Turnberry for a future LIV event.
Pick to flame out early at the Old Course?
Garrett: Tyrrell Hatton. He has had more success at the Old Course than most, having won the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in 2016 and 2017, but man, I’d love to see him miss the cut this week and, much as he did at the Masters and the PGA Championship earlier this year, denounce the venue on the way out of town. Trashing Augusta National and St. Andrews in the same year would be quite the accomplishment.
Cameron: Bryson. Although he has the length to reach many of the par 4s, a fiery Old Course could lead to lots of unpredictable bounces and massive roll-outs. For a guy that tries to control every variable, he’ll have to deal with a lot of chaos this week. If he’s forced to chip out of a few pot bunkers early on, it could do his head in.
Will: I picked him at Brookline and I’ll do it again here: Brooks Koepka. MC/T-55/55th in majors so far this year and he hasn’t had many tournament reps to speak of this summer as he has battled injury and gotten married in lavish fashion. Had he gotten the Phil/Bryson/Reed treatment and drawn a lackluster pairing, he may have floated through this championship unnoticed.
Brooksie in his new milieu. Photo: Garrett Morrison
Andy: I could see Bryson taking down a little too much Haggis at breakfast and shooting 80 if it’s windy.
Meg: Justin Thomas. In five appearances at the Open Championship, he’s finished better than 40th only once. After a missed cut at the Scottish Open last week, JT admitted he’s “played terribly over here” and is still working to understand the questions that links golf asks. Maybe he’ll suddenly solve the riddle, but I think it’s more likely that his first Open at St. Andrews, a course that arguably asks the most complex questions in golf, keeps the befuddlement trend going.
Who is your pick to win and why?
Cameron: Justin Thomas. I’m just excited to watch him hit shots this week on a firm Old Course. The phrase “old school” came up a lot after his win at Southern Hills, and I think his ability to work the ball, hit a range of trajectories, and be creative could give him an advantage this week, especially if the wind picks up a little.
Meg: Jordan Spieth. Why, you ask? Because I want all of the drama, all of the chaos, and all of the memes for the last men’s major of the year.
Garrett: Rory McIlroy. Look, this isn’t a week for hard realism. St. Andrews is a sentimental, occasionally mystical place. Let’s not be embarrassed by that. Let’s believe that our sweet prince can leave behind his dithering and overthinking, and that he can exact full revenge on his treacherous Australian uncle… okay, I’m not sure where I’m going with this analogy. Here’s how I justify my pick: 1) the Old Course rewards raw distance off the tee, and Rory never shows up without a few extra yards in his back pocket; 2) I’m guessing the Old Course will be slightly less firm and blustery than early-week reports have suggested, so Rory’s disadvantage in the having-all-the-shots department may be less significant than you think. But most of all, in this LIV-beclouded era, I just want to believe in something, even if that thing recently had his brain scrambled by J.P. McManus.
Andy: I’m with Garrett. The romantic in me is taking Rory. He’s playing some of the best golf we’ve seen out of him since his major-winning prime. He has finished in the top 10 of every major this year, and unlike Augusta National, the Old Course isn’t a place where he has a ton of bad memories. In his lone Open start at St. Andrews as a young pup in 2010, he almost shot the first sub-63 round in major history before getting gusted out of the tournament. Of all the golfers I want to see win at the Old Course, Rory tops the list, especially after months of having to serve as the Tour’s de facto spokesman against LIV. The man’s been pulling double duty and deserves something good.
Will: Jordan Spieth. Because my emotions say so.