Seriously, at what time did you turn on the TV to start watching the first round of the Open Championship from Royal Lytham & St. Anne's? One of the neat things about the British Open is that because of the time difference, you can enjoy the game of golf in the wee hours of the morning.
I did not set an alarm, but when I awoke at 5 a.m. the first thing I did was turn on the tube. OK, it was the second thing I did (everyone knows why a person my age wakes up in the middle of the night), but I wanted to know what was happening no matter how early in the competition. Once I started watching the action, I knew going back to sleep was not a likely option.
The courses used for the British Open make me wonder what kind of score I could shoot on them. Links style courses such as Royal Lytham are known for their deep pot bunkers and gnarly fescue rough that could hide a small child. It is fun to watch the best golfers in the world hit shots from these spots. Some of the results remind me of some crazy shots that I have hit, though from much easier circumstances.
I'm not really sure why, but when a pro hits a shot that goes nowhere or in a direction not intended, it makes all of us average duffers feel better about ourselves.
The pot bunkers have a face made of layers of sod stacked atop each other similar to bricklaying. This creates a menacing wall, but the traps are well taken care of. To keep weeds from growing out of the sod, a herbicide is applied with a soft bristle brush. This week any stray weeds were pulled by hand. Course workers will brush the sand off the faces each day. You may not want to be in one of the bunkers, but it will look good when you get there!
One of the more interesting facts I found about the bunkers at Royal Lytham is that there are a bunch of them. Exactly how many is open to debate it seems, as some reports say 205 while others suggest there are actually 206. You have seen these things right? How can there not be an accurate count? These bunkers are generally round and extremely deep. Get in one and you may not be able to see out of it. So how can the number of them not be accurately counted?
Well, whatever the number, the key to winning the Open Championship will likely be the ability to avoid getting in the bunkers in the first place. If a golfer gets in one, he must take his medicine and basically consider it a one shot penalty. To try something miraculous from the deep pits usually results in worse trouble. I saw one guy with his right leg bent and the left leg prone leaning into the bunker to hit his ball. He pulled it off. I would have toppled over, head over applecart, into the sand. Who knows where the ball would go, but my best guess is that it would have remained in the bunker only to be joined by me.
To make matters worse at Royal Lytham, rainfall early in the week filled some of these bunkers with water. Now if your ball is in water in the trap you have the option of dropping it somewhere else in the bunker without penalty. If no dry place is available you play the ball where it lies (Keegan Bradley did so very effectively), or drop out of the bunker with a one stroke penalty.
The other major concern in this major tournament is the rough. In the U.S. golf courses have, for the most part, "normal" grass. The degree of difficulty here is how short they mow the rough. At the U.S. Open, the grass is allowed to grow to a depth of several inches, making golfers try their darndest to avoid it.
In England however, the rough is whatever happens to grow there. Tall fescue grasses normally don't present that great a challenge because it is not so dense. This year, unlike around here, the weather has been extremely rainy and the grasses have grown accordingly.
Some spots on the course have grasses that are thigh high. That makes finding the ball, let alone playing it, very difficult. In the first round Phil Mickelson could barely see his ball when bent over from a very specific angle. When he stood to address the ball it was not visible. How would you like to try to hit a ball that you can't even see? Phil pulled it off, advancing the ball towards the hole. Unfortunately he spent way too much time in the rough and bunkers and missed the cut by seven strokes.
Nicholas Colsaerts took a mighty swing from the rough and looked up only to find that the ball had not left its position. Finally, a pro did something that I can do, and have done. Colsaerts was playing well at the time but took a triple bogey on the hole pretty much ruining his day.
As I write this the second round has been completed and the cut has been made. Some great golf has been seen including Brent Snedeker shooting 10 under and Adam Scott at -9. Tiger is lurking in third place and the other factor that hasn't been an issue in this year's tournament may well become important today. The weather, with gusty winds and rainy conditions will add another concern for the greatest golfers in the world. As if the bunkers and rough were not enough.
The best news is that you don't have to get up nearly as early to watch the final round. I will, but we've already established the reason for that!
Al Stephenson is the golf columnist for The Advertiser-Tribune.
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