• Fields of gold

    The Open at Royal Portrush
    Open season

    The final Major of the year – The Open Championship – takes place on one of the great links courses in the world, Royal Portrush.

    Nothing, in terms of significance, can match Tiger Woods’ victory at The Masters this year, his fifth Green Jacket and a 15th career Major after an 11-year ‘drought’. However, now we arrive at the big one of 2019 – The Open Championship.

    For the first time, The Open is the last of the four men’s Majors on the annual calendar, but now that we know the winners’ identities of the three that have preceded it this year – Woods (The Masters), Brooks Koepka (The PGA Championship) and Gary Woodland (US Open) – all eyes are on the next one.

    At the beginning of the year we asked a panel of South African golf personalities which Major they were looking forward to the most in 2019 and this is how they responded:

    Dale Hayes: ‘The Open Championship at Royal Portrush. One of the world’s great old golf courses and full of genuine golf fans. An extra plus is that it will be the last Major of the year. A win by Rory McIlroy would be spectacular.’

    Grant Hepburn: ‘I always enjoy The Open and am often fortunate enough to attend the tournament. In 2019 it is in a particularly beautiful part of the world.’

    Denis Hutchinson: ‘It has to be The Open, which I look forward to every year. The Open at Royal Portrush will be special because they haven’t played it there since 1951, during the Bobby Locke years. The last time I was there was when I was commentating at the Irish Open in 2012, when Jamie Donaldson won. I believe there have been a few changes to the course since then, though.’

    And then there are the comments from Gary Player, who won nine regular Majors and nine more Senior Majors: ‘In Ireland, I have always liked Royal Portrush, where I won the 1997 Senior Open Championship. I’m not sure the course has received the recognition it deserves. It is one of the great courses of the world with its challenges, like the 14th hole, but also with its spectacular views of the water below as it plays along the high cliffs.’

    The 69-year-old American Tom Watson, who lifted the last of his five Claret Jugs at Royal Birkdale in 1983, visited Royal Portrush in late May to see the changes to the course. And the global ambassador for The Open was left in no doubt as to the club’s ability to host the tournament.

    ‘I was always looking forward to playing Portrush and after I’d played it I felt it was one of the top courses in the world. I loved the golf course,’ admitted Watson, who also featured at the 2004 Senior British Open at Royal Portrush. ‘The front nine is the easier of the two; the back nine is extremely challenging. It really is a tough nine holes of golf. The greens are narrow and they drop off. It’s going to provide a lot of drama for this championship.’

    SA’S TOP QUALIFIERS

    Ernie Els (champion 2004 and 2012)

    Louis Oosthuizen (champion 2010)

    Brandon Stone (inside the top 30 in 2018 Race to Dubai standings)

    Shaun Norris (inside the top two on the 2018 Asian Tour moneylist)

    Justin Harding (inside the top 50 in the world as at 26 May)

    Branden Grace (inside the top 50 in the world as at 26 May)

    Zander Lombard (winner of the 2018-19 Sunshine Tour Order of Merit)

    All the Saffas in action, click HERE!

    KEY HOLES

    (And how you must play them as an ‘ordinary golfer’)

    Royal Portrush has two courses – the Valley Links and the Dunluce Links, which will host The Open.

    The 382-yard par-four 5th hole is a dogleg played from an elevated tee towards the ocean. It rewards the daring shot across a wide expanse of rough. Be careful, though, as an overly long approach shot will end up on the sand of the White Rocks beach which lies just beyond the back of the green. Make sure you take a moment to enjoy the stunning views from the green towards the 15th-century Dunluce Castle and the surfers braving the swells below.

    The 235-yard par-three 16th hole is called Calamity Corner. Between the tee and the green is a yawning chasm, which must be cleared to stand any chance of making your three. It is hard to describe the feeling as you stand on this tee, looking out across the Valley Links below, knowing it will take a fantastic shot to hit the small target across the void.

    COURSE CHANGES

    From November 2015 to May 2017 work was done on the course, with the shifting sands giving way to the building of five greens, eight tee boxes, 10 bunkers and the creation of two holes, the 7th (right) and 8th, on land which was once part of the Valley course. The uphill par-five 7th is called Curran Point, named after a stretch of beach which runs parallel on the East Strand. The 8th, which runs in the opposite direction, is called Dunluce. These holes replaced the old 17th and 18th. The new Championship Course was lengthened by 130 yards to 7 317 yards, and another special feature of the altered layout was the excavation of thousands of tonnes of sand to build a 180-foot tunnel to allow players to move from green to tee while spectators use the sand dune for viewing.

    OPEN NUMBERS

    Your eyes are not deceiving you. There have been three Open Championships that didn’t have a prize fund.

    Most competitors in a single playoff, which was at Muirfield in 2002. Stuart Appleby and Steve Elkington were eliminated after four extra holes and the tournament went to sudden death between Ernie Els and Thomas Levet. The Big Easy parred the first hole of sudden death (the 18th) to win his third Major.

    The most victories at The Open Championship, by Harry Vardon (1896, 1898, 1899, 1903, 1911 and, at the age of 44, 1914), who also invented the overlapping grip.

    The number of golfers who played the inaugural Open Championship at Prestwick Golf Club in 1860. This year marks the 148th staging of the tournament.

    There have been eight wire-to-wire winners, the last of which was American Jordan Spieth at Royal Birkdale in 2017, when he shot rounds of 65, 69, 65 and 69 to beat Matt Kuchar by three strokes.

    The number of courses that have hosted The Open: St Andrews, Muirfield, Royal St Georges, Royal Liverpool, Royal Troon, Royal Lytham & St Annes, Carnoustie, Royal Portrush, Royal Birkdale, Turnberry, Prestwick, Musselburgh, Royal Cinque Ports, Prince’s.

    Pounds (around R4 000). The standard greenfee to play a round at Royal Portrush’s Dunluce course, where this year’s Open will be staged.

    The lowest four-round score, achieved by Henrik Stenson at Royal Troon in 2016, after rounds of 68, 65, 68 and 63.

    The total yardage of the championship course, one of two courses at Poyal Portrush and which is called Dunluce.

    The record for the most Open appearances, held by Gary Player, who is also the only golfer to win in three different decades of the 20th century.

    Branden Grace’s 62 in the third round of the 2017 Open at Royal Birkdale is the lowest round in Major history. ‘Let’s get this out of the way,’ said Grace, opening his press conference. ‘I didn’t know what was going on at 18. I promise you.’ He had loops of 29 and 33. ‘To do it at the Open Championship is pretty special. It’s something I’ll remember forever.’

    The amount, in pounds, (about R35m) that will be awarded to this year’s winner.

    ABOUT PORTUSH

    According to lonelyplanet.com Portush has a population of 7 355. In the 2011 national census, the average age was 42, with a 52-48 female/male split. It is a small seaside town with three beaches, but has one of Northern Ireland’s most famous nightclubs, Lush! The town is also known for its annual air show and is home to Barry’s Amusements, the largest amusement park in Northern Ireland. Darren Clarke, winner of the 2011 Open Championship, is the most famous person living in the town. An estimated 190 000 visitors are expected to converge on Portrush for The Open.

    Team Compleat says:

    Usually the person who putts the best during the week wins. When Jordan Spieth won at Royal Birkdale in 2017 he did so with a red-hot putter, but it went off the boil after that. However, he showed at The PGA Championship, where he tied third behind Brooks Koepka, that he’s found his touch on the greens again, after his world ranking slipped to No 39. It’s an outrageous ranking for a 25-year-old former No 1 who has won three Majors. Gary Lemke

    Royal Portrush is going to put on a show and presents a fantastic opportunity for Rory McIlroy to end his Major ‘drought’. He’s been playing his most consistent golf and it’s bound to pay off. A man for the occasion, McIlroy knows what it takes to win close to home. He’s done it before, and he’ll do it again. – Wade Pretorius

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