After an excellent first round at the 2021 Open, Jordan Spieth was relishing the chance he has to test himself at the Royal St George’s course in Kent, UK.
While Spieth once again showcased his abilities on the links course on Saturday, it was overnight leader Louis Oosthuizen who came out on top at the end of the day, a crucial birdie on the 16th hole giving him a one-shot lead over second-placed Collin Morikawa heading into the final 18 holes on Sunday.
Other golfers are less convinced by the delights of playing golf by the sea.
“It’s not my favorite venue that we’ve played. There are quite a few blind tee shots, hitting to nothing, fairways that are quite undulating,” said four-time major winner Brooks Koepka in his pre-tournament press conference.
Links golf is a harsh, unique style of course which can punish you for the slightest mistake, but a bit like that ice cream by the sea, when you game comes together and you get things right, life just seems to taste that little bit sweeter.
Often built on sand dunes, links courses tend to have little vegetation except tall, thick grass which makes up an unforgiving rough for players.
Between the long, dense rough and the strong sea wind, the most minute mistake can lead to calamity, with countless players’ tournament hopes coming to a crashing end over the years.
PGA Championship winner Phil Mickelson thought he “was playing well coming into” this year’s Open having only recently become golf’s oldest ever major winner.
However, in Thursday’s opening round, the 50-year-old Mickelson finished in joint last place of the 156-man field after shooting a 10-over-par 80.
Despite carding arespectable two-over par score on Friday, Mickelson struggled consistently with his driving, constantly having to play out of the thick rough. He missed the cut on Friday and was therefore ruled out of playing the Open’s last two rounds.
The six-time major winner admitted after his round on Friday that he was having some “challenges staying sharp.”
The “bomb and gauge” technique adapted by fellow American, Bryson DeChambeau — one which has brought him his maiden major victory and shot him up the golf rankings — was also challenged by Royal St George’s.
The 26-year-old DeChambeau admitted his driver “sucked” on Thursday and his waywardness with the club meant he only made the cut by the skin of his teeth, and his struggles continued on Saturday.
The Open’s leaders after the first two rounds — Oosthuizen, Morikawa and Spieth — have used their skills with their irons rather than relying on their drivers and it has paid dividends.
All three players have made over 77% of the greens over the first 36-holes of the tournament as they mitigated the dangers and traps of the links course.
With an Open already to his name, Spieth looks looks like a kid excitedly queuing for an ice cream as he showcases some different skills here in the UK than he might on the PGA Tour.
“It brings a lot of the feel aspect into the game,” he told the media after his first round. “I shorten swings up over here, and hit more punch shots, and stuff that I probably should be doing at home. You get less swing-focused and more shot-focused over here because the second you take your brain off the shot you’re hitting, you may not find your ball.
“Instead of just a driving-range shot in Palm Springs, there’s always some shot you have to play that gives you a little bit of an advantage. Certain club selections, based on if you hit a fade or a draw, they go 15 or 20 yards different distances. To sum that up, there’s just a lot of external factors over here, and I think that external is where I need to be living.”
The second-round heroics of Morikawa — seeking to become the first man to win both the PGA Championship and the Open on his debut — was mostly on the back of his wizardry with his irons; his dead-eye accuracy negating the natural complications the links course offers up.
It’s yet to be seen whether Spieth or Morikawa can overcome the lead Oosthuizen held at the start of Saturday, but all three men are testament that to conquer a links golf course, a golfer needs to have all the tools in the tool bag.
The question now is who will be celebrating with the Claret Jug — the Open trophy — and who knows, maybe even a gelato, come Sunday?