Lasting memories of the Open Championship

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

It seemed that there were more things going on than usual at this historic Open Championship in Northern Ireland. What will be your favourite or lasting memory of the week at Royal Portrush?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): For me, seeing and reliving my two recent trips to that magnificent golf course.  Stupidly, I didn’t save my scorecard from my round there in May, nor record how I played each hole, so I couldn’t compare shot-by-shot with the pro’s… it would’ve been an interesting comparison, because I played a couple of tee boxes further up, so my drives (the odd straight one) would have ended up close to where the pro’s landed.  In any case, this Open reinforced my resolve that there are SO MANY great golf courses in the United Kingdom, it’s a shame that the R&A won’t open their mind to expanding the rota list.  Royal Portrush showed that it’s as good as, if not better than, any of the others in the group.

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): Dare I say the careless slap putt (from frustration) Rory missed from about seven inches which ultimately saw him miss the cut? The elements showing themselves for the final round. I love it when the umbrellas come out with the rain suits! For me it was the 3rd round for Lowry. He played brilliantly tee to green and putted well too. It was impressive. The R&A should be praised for selecting this venue, helping this country economically, not buggering up the setup, and finding a worthy Champion at week’s end. Bravo R&A.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Life Member, PGA of Canada: When I see a course like this one, I wish I could not only play it but play more of them like it. The photogenic appeal is beyond belief! The most memorable images I have are of the course. I know the players were the main story but absent in the discussion is an attempt by the R&A to make protect par. The wind did blow, and the rains did come but so did the weather lie down’ so we could watch the best payers in the world tack their way around a wondrous course.

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): The images that will likely stick with me for the longest from last week’s Open were Brooks Koepka’s negative body language while playing with human molasses, J.B. Holmes or the throng of fans that rushed Royal Portrush’s 18th green after Lowry locked down the tournament. Those images couldn’t be more different, but both paint a fairly accurate picture of the week that just transpired.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: It was brilliant how NBC and The Golf Channel sent videographers — video artists — around the coastlines and rural nuances of Northern Ireland to capture the stunning beauty of the island. That the weather co-operated during those shoots was a blessing. I have been lucky enough to take the sticks there on three memorable occasions, with a round at Portrush (65F, sunny, no wind) unforgettable. My lasting memory of this Open is the relentless and creative shotmaking in Round 3. It seemed like it was one ‘Wow’ after another from the 4 am wakeup (PDT) to staggering out to the backyard at noon. Rory’s succumbing to the weight of a nation on the 1st tee will long be remembered, too.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): It’s hard to separate the Open returning to Northern Ireland, Royal Portrush as one of the best Open courses, an Irishman winning the Claret Jug and both North and South celebrating together. In the end it’s a brilliant Irish story.

The final round saw some epic collapses from some of the best players in the world (Justin Rose, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia) while JB Holmes shot 87 and dropped from a tie for third to 67th. Several other top ranked players, most notably Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and US Open champion Gary Woodland, failed to even make the cut. On the other hand, the winning score was 15-under and there were plenty of low rounds recorded. How would you rate Royal Portrush as an Open Championship venue and is links golf the most complete test of a professional golfer? 

Deeks: Since the Open is the only major championship played on links courses, I think it provides the sternest test of pro golfers’ mental and physical capability.  I love the other majors and TPC (the fifth major, IMO), but having now played 9 of the 10 rota courses, I’m more fascinated by the Open each year than any other event.  To shoot 15-under, in the variety of weather they faced, is a huge achievement in itself, and to me, would be the equivalent of shooting 28-under at Augusta.  For J.B. Holmes to shoot 87 was sad, but also showed that many American golfers just aren’t used to the elements and the challenge that links golf offers.  As an Open venue, I’d rate Royal Portrush a 9… as I would Royal Birkdale… and I’ll hope and assume the R&A will make it a permanent member of the rota list.

Loughry: Didn’t you just love the carnage! Finally, the elements arrived to unleash the beast of Portrush. I loved the venue and hope they go back. It was a great test of golf, the leaderboard was still packed with world class players (even if it missed Day, Tiger, Rory, etc.). Lowry in time I believe will prove he’s not a one hit wonder. I do love Links golf, it seems to have everything you need to test skill: rolling fairways, dunes, fescue, bush, wind, rain, amazing penal bunkering. Add that all up, as a player it also means you have to think your way around the course and have patience.  I ask: what more do you want in a venue? For me, that’s all I need.

Schurman: Royal Portrush is the UK version of Augusta National. The USA epitomizes opulence, decadence and an over-the-top mentality for showmanship and thus Augusta National. It is beautiful beyond anything one has seen regarding golf courses. The flowers are splendid. The grasses seem like they aren’t real. The signage is immaculate. The buildings are pristine. Everything is it’s magnificent in its contrived, orderly, organized way. The land Portrush was created on sat for thousands of years until someone decided it was put there for the purpose of building a golf course. Every hole was designed by winds twisting sand into dunes. Green sites and tee sites located to best challenge golfers of every level. And, each successive hole is hidden from the next so as increase the ‘rush’ a player gets as he/she anticipates the next challenge. Courses like Portrush aren’t shaped by earth-moving equipment, they are discovered by talented course designers who benefit from the ultimate creator. We (North America) have some wonderful places to play golf but our equivalent to Portrush is Pebble Beach, Cabot Links and Bandon Dunes, which are few and far between compared to those in the UK.

Kaplan: I thought it was a really interesting course that provided considerable challenge but also a clear avenue for both strategy and success. I hope it doesn’t take another 60+ years for the tournament to return to Portrush because there were just so many excellent holes there. Plus, I’ll be over 90 by then. I think links golf is certainly one of the most complete tests—likely the most complete natural test—but I’d still give the tricked out U.S. Open tracks the edge when it comes to complete golf tests … perhaps not some of the ones we’ve seen in recent years (Whistling Straits or Chambers Bay) but the vast majority of tracks in the rotation require precise execution on essentially every strike and putt.

Quinn: I agree with the players, Portrush was magnificent. Like the other classic links courses, it demanded precision, imagination, guts, determination, strength, finesse — in short, golf at its finest. The bit of bother — the 30 mph winds and horizontal rain on Sunday — added that ingredient the other Majors do not have. By miles, The Open is the best test and best event in any year.

Mumford: This Open provided a bit of everything but most importantly, some nasty weather. A complete test of a golfer has to include his ability to hit shots when the weather conditions are perfect but also when they’re not; when a bad bounce or unfavourable lie can turn a routine par into a big number; and when there’s a major championship on the line. How a player handles that pressure both mentally and physically is paramount to being crowned Champion Golfer of the Year. Royal Portrush more than delivered a tough test of golf; links golf generally presents considerably more challenges than the usual sanitized conditions in North America; and there’s no way the R&A should wait another 68 years to return. This was one of the best Opens ever.

Xander Schauffele was angry that the R&A leaked news that his driver had failed a random eligibility test. There may have been others that failed the test too but only Schauffele’s name was mentioned. In subsequent discussions, it has been alleged that many players (knowingly and unknowingly) play with non-conforming equipment on a regular basis. Do you think the governing bodies should make these test results public? And if a player is using non-conforming equipment, what kind of penalty should be assessed?

Deeks: On the I Couldn’t Care Less list, this one ranks pretty high for me.  But to answer the valid question, yes, I think the governing bodies should make the results public, not that the public would care much either.  On the basis that some players may not know whether their equipment conforms or not, I’d say that confiscation of the offending club(s) is sufficient, and the player must play one competitive round without the club(s) in question, before resuming play with properly conforming club(s).

Loughry: This was an interesting finding and reaction. I have no doubt Xander didn’t knowingly put this non-conforming driver in play. But to say it’s not his job to ensure his equipment conforms is a bit ridiculous. It is the player’s responsibility. Do they need help? Sure, but I think the manufacturers could be a big help in this regard. Testing is done in advance of a competition – if caught, it’s a DQ, that simple. Black-listing players whose equipment fails the test, I’m not sure that’s necessary. Nor does a manufacturer want those findings published either. Xander did make a good point though: supposedly his wasn’t the only driver that failed (some 4 or 5 of various makes), and you extrapolate the results, there were likely more players using non-conforming equipment in the field. Perhaps there should be more clubs/players put through this random testing. I think that would change the attitude of the players and how this is all handled currently.

Schurman: It’s ridiculous we’re even discussing this. With the access every manufacturer has to testing equipment, ANY player playing non-conforming equipment is CHEATING! Schauffele can wiggle, deny and cast blame on others. The fact remains he and his equipment provider broke the rules. Everyone knows the limits and rules. Hell, I know them. Most are trying to develop equipment with leading-edge technology in the hope their ‘guy’ is victorious so they can sell more stuff. They know exactly what they are doing. To expose their staff member to these accusations is irresponsible and negligent. First, the player should be DQ’d. Second, his/her contract should state if any non-conforming equipment is placed in the hands of one of their Tour Players and apprehended for use in an event, the company should be subject to massive financial compensation for damaging his/her reputation. Last, how long has this gone on? Did Schauffele use this driver in PGA TOUR events leading up to the Open and if so, should he be DQ’d retroactively and be required to forfeit any prize money won and lose any/all FedEx points?

Kaplan: These results should absolutely be disclosed. It is strange that only Schauffele’s name was revealed, and I can empathize with his displeasure, but if you’re cheating—and let’s be honest: that’s what is happening here; these guys know they are using outlawed equipment—you deserve to get called out. And I think the penalties should be severe, regardless of whether you are Tiger Woods or some no name on the circuit. Cheating is cheating. Garrigus got a three-month suspension for smoking some weed, which doesn’t give you any type of competitive advantage. So, a slap on the wrist, or a suspension for less time than that, really wouldn’t cut it in this instance. I think to root this problem out of the game, the PGA Tour needs to be tough and take a cue from the MLB. Six months for a first offence. A year for a second offence. Lifetime expulsion for the hat trick.

Quinn: Bryson DeChambeau is the only guy who pretends to understand what the rocket scientists in the club R&D departments are up to, so it’s patently obvious that guys like Xander and the rest aren’t asking the white coats to tweak their club faces just a nano extra for a big event. Yes, the clubs should be tested more stringently to see if they conform to the so-called ‘limits,’ and the results should be made public. But the club companies should be called out, not the players. If a company doesn’t conform at one event, their clubs should be tested — not randomly, but specifically — for the rest of the season. The only penalty to the player would be he or she cannot play that club in a sanctioned event. Xander’s shout out that it is happening all the time is telling.

Mumford: Currently the governing associations test randomly for non-conforming clubs, but it seems to me that every player should be tested, and those results should be made public. If a player fails a test, then he should be DQ’d from the competition. Subsequent fails should result in more severe penalties. There’s no gray area here. Non-conforming is a polite way of saying illegal. And using illegal equipment is cheating.

The Round Table
The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

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