Early last week, social media lit up with news of Gordon Sargent’s feats of strength at the Old Course. Brentley Romine reported that the wiry 20-year-old American had driven the green on the sixth hole, a 414-yard par 4. I wondered whether the story of the 2023 Walker Cup would be one of today’s technology and tomorrow’s stars overwhelming yesterday’s championship venue.
It was a story, for sure. On his way to winning two singles matches and propelling the U.S. team to a 14.5-11.5 victory over Great Britain and Ireland, Sargent drove the 18th green twice, first with a choked-down driver, then with a 3-wood. Of course, we’ve seen players achieve this feat many times before—just not with such ease. The 347-yard closing hole was very much a long par 3 for young Sargent, and not a particularly imposing one.
Yet the Old Course also showed its resilience this past weekend, its ability to test, expose, and frustrate any player, no matter how powerful.
Yes, Gordon Sargent placed two throttled-back tee shots within 40 feet of the pin on the 18th hole, and this fact should harden the governing bodies’ resolve to regulate the game’s equipment properly. But I keep thinking about another shot Sargent hit on Sunday: a 50-yard approach from a tight lie to a pin on the 12th green’s central platform. He reached for a lob wedge and tried a spinny pitch that would work at almost any modern course. Here, though, the ball didn’t check up; it ran past the hole, off the tabletop, and to the back of the green.
At the Old Course, you still have to hit some of the old shots. Not all of them, but enough. (Like a bump-and-run, for instance.)
These challenges have always rubbed certain players the wrong way. On Sunday, UK Golf Guy overheard 19-year-old Nick Dunlap, the reigning U.S. Amateur champion, grumbling about “a course where good shots are penalized and bad shots are rewarded.” This is a time-honored critique of the Old Course, typically leveled by golfers who have simplistic notions of what constitutes a “good shot.”
But I don’t want to judge Dunlap too harshly, at least at this point in his life. He’s the same age as Bobby Jones was at the 1921 Open, when Jones took four hacks to escape from the Hill bunker and promptly tore up his scorecard.
Later, Jones would write, “I considered St. Andrews among the very worst courses I had ever seen, and I am afraid I was even disrespectful of its difficulties. The maddening part of the whole thing was that, while I was certain the course was easy, I simply could not make a good score. Self complacently, I excused myself by thinking the course was unfair, that the little mounds and undulations should not be there, and because my shots were deflected continually away from the hole, I regarded myself as unlucky.”
The next year, Jones would participate in the first Walker Cup, held at National Golf Links, a course full of adoring tributes to the Scottish game. When he played the National’s 13th hole, an Eden template, perhaps he took a moment to look at C.B. Macdonald’s version of the Hill bunker and reflect on his actions the previous summer. In 1926, Jones returned to St. Andrews. For the rest of his life, he loved the course more than any other.
I hope Nick Dunlap will be as fortunate.
This piece originally appeared in The Fried Egg newsletter. Subscribe for free and receive golf news and insight every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.