As anticipation for the 150th Open Championship at St. Andrews reaches a fever pitch, it’s easy to get lost in all of the storylines, players to watch, favorites, and so on. In the latest episode of The Fried Egg podcast, Michael Clayton—former European Tour player, golf course architect, and writer—joined Andy Johnson to zero in on five things they’re watching for this week.
Clayton is uniquely equipped to discuss competing at St. Andrews, as he played in the Open Championship at the Old Course in 1984, 1990, and 1995. He shares some memories from those Opens, including his inability to appreciate the course the first time he played it, specific shots he’ll never forget, and the circumstances that led to him being paired with Payne Stewart and Bernhard Langer for the first two rounds in 1990.
Here are snippets from the conversation, with links to the full episode at the end:
The state of Tiger
Clayton: “Everyone wants to know the state of Tiger’s game. I just think he’s the most compelling guy since Seve. It’s interesting to look back at his career now and understand that we lived through one of the greatest eras ever. We’re all incredibly lucky to have seen him play. I saw him play inside the ropes a couple of times, and it was golf beyond belief. In my time, only watching Seve was close to being as good.”
Andy: “I’m very fascinated with Tiger for this tournament. I think one of the things that has wowed me this year with Tiger is just the resiliency to make cuts. It kind of makes me wonder about other guys that are in their primes at the peak of their powers that are missing cuts. This guy’s got one and a half legs and he’s out there making cuts. He’s not playing any tournament golf outside of that.”
The Old Course
Andy: “This is a place that is a temple, a holy grail. It’s one of the greatest courses in the world, maybe the greatest. The number of places they have to move tees to to fit championship golf in, and the way championship golf is played there now is so far removed from what it was. The question is, is it still a great Open venue?”
Clayton: “Well, it’s a great venue because the venue is more than just the golf course. The venue is the town. It’s the best venue. Is it the best course and does it offer up a suitable test? Well, there are lots of short par 4s out there. There are lots of wedge shots. It only has two par 5s. I hope someone goes out there and shoots 58 and makes a mockery of the golf course, and they can see the insanity of what they’ve allowed to get out of the bag, how they’ve let the equipment get to this point. This is the straw that breaks the camel’s back and forces the R&A to do something about the ball.”
Rory and Willy Z
Andy: “Both of these guys have three top 10s in all three majors. Zalatoris obviously has been extraordinarily close the last two. I watched a ton of him at the Country Club, and I think in terms of young talent he’s got the widest array of shots from tee to green. I’m so impressed with his striking. Of all the young players, I feel like if it gets really windy, he’s the guy I actually like a lot because of the way he can control his trajectories. And Rory, I just don’t think he’s in the same position here as he is in the Masters. Something about this year, the way he’s played and it being the 150th at St. Andrews makes me think we’re going to get an all-time winner. It feels like a Rory McIlroy win would just be apropos this week.”
Clayton: “It’s beyond belief that he hasn’t won one since . How is that possible? Surely, you can’t keep not winning if you’re as good as that and you put yourself in position. He seems like he’s gotten around playing that miserable first round and taking himself out of it on Thursday. He’s played some great opening rounds the last couple of majors. I just can’t imagine that Rory McIlroy finishes his career with four majors.”
Data-driven course management
Clayton: “St. Andrews is the ultimate disrupter for the mathematical formula for playing golf courses. As much as I detest the fact that you can distill golf down to a mathematical formula, I kind of understand it on most courses. Can you play St. Andrews in a formulaic way? Does it work?”
An older winner
Andy: “The Open is an older guy’s tournament. The average age of the winner is a lot older than other majors. With us in an unprecedented youth cycle, that’s something that I would like to see and something I’m watching. Are we gonna get a guy who bags his second major or an unexpected add-on for a two-time major winner that’s a little bit older in the tooth?”
Aussie, Aussie, Aussie
Clayton: “There’s always generally been an Australian in there with a shot to win. Which one of them is it? Cam Smith, Scott, Leishman, we got a bunch of guys playing. Cam’s just been the same way his whole career. Cam Smith doesn’t look like Rory or Koepka, or look obviously impressive, but if you really watch him play and study how he plays, he’s incredibly impressive, and he keeps doing it. So from a purely selfish point of view, my interest is in how the Australians play.”
For more on tee times for the first two rounds of The Open, check out Will Knights groups to watch here.
The LIV specter
Andy: “I think one of the bigger things with LIV this week is, is this the last normal major championship, really? What are exemptions going to look like next year with the world golf rankings and everything? A lot of guys that we’re used to seeing in majors might not be exempt into majors next year.”