The public will be buzzing for years to come as the duel between Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson for the 145th Open Championship goes down in golfing folklore. Both players were a class above the rest, and compliments must go to the R&A for organizing yet another Open Championship to remember, one that avoided any ‘USGA moments.’
I still think, however, that tradition kept The Open from being an even better spectacle than it was. The tradition I allude to is the R&A persisting with starting every player off the first tee in the opening two rounds. Many golf tournaments have adopted an order of play where the first and 10th tees are used on Thursday and Friday to help speed up play as well as give players a reasonable hour to play and not have to wait so long to tee off.
Evidence of this could be seen with the likes of Zander Lombard on Thursday and Haydn Porteous on Friday, who were last off the tee at 16h16 local time (17h16 SA time). They would undoubtedly have waited an inordinate amount of time before getting their rounds underway.
Colin Montgomerie teed up at Royal Troon last Thursday at the obscene time of 06h35 in the morning, when any normal person at the very most should be having breakfast or waking up in the shower. The late finishers on both days also walked into the clubhouse well after eight o’clock in the evening, a time when supper should be happening. There are several golfers that would have brought their families along, and these unearthly hours would have meant that if you got an unfavourable time slot, family time would be almost nothing if you take into consideration that a certain number of hours would have been spent on the driving range or putting greens preparing for the round.
Admittedly the light in Scotland has accommodated this tradition for years, but it was what happened on Friday that has to make one consider whether tradition has run its course and needs to be changed to keep up with the times.
Those in the afternoon group on Friday got the bad end of the deal with the awful Scottish weather showing its face. This realistically meant that they didn’t stand a chance of challenging come Sunday.
The likes of Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Rory McIlroy could have added so much more to the major had they been afforded anything remotely near the conditions that Phil Mickelson and Henrik Stenson enjoyed.
Monitoring the leaderboard on Friday, it was scary to see how the afternoon play affected the cut line. When the morning finishers came in, it looked as though not many of those over par would make it (the cut line was at one-over-par). Then came the weather, and almost no players were able to break par for their round in the afternoon, and as a result the cut line pushed out to four-over-par.
Steve Stricker was the top player on the ‘wrong side’ of the draw on five-under-par. It was a distant 15 shots behind the winner, and I suspect the gap that emerged after the end of the third round would have been a lot less with a two-tee order of play. The players mentioned all have the ability to shoot low when in form and in favourable conditions, and despite not actually doing it on Saturday on Sunday, one must take into account that the Friday experience left them in a position where they were playing with little hope of winning the title.
The Ayrshire weather has a bad reputation and the draw clearly handicapped several top-ranked players.
The Open has many traditions that are well respected, but the single-tee draw for the first two rounds affected the outcome of the tournament.
Imagine if there were a few more players involved in the epic duel on Sunday, rather than playing for third.
What would a golf lover take from the Open if the duel at the top never happened? Personally I would have been left disappointed. If either player had pulled away early we would most have heaped praise on them, but I personally would have changed the channel long before the end of the round and just checked back in for the trophy ceremony.
The R&A may not be heavily criticized this time, given that the duel covered up the cracks, but I do feel that the tee-off schedule in the opening rounds can be adjusted to prevent a repeat of what happened on Friday at The Open.