Why I Love The Open
Of the four men’s major golf championships, The Open is my favorite.
While I love watching the golf at Augusta National, it is a little too familiar. I have seen the same camera angles and heard the same syrupy music every year for decades. Yes, The Masters often produces a thrilling end, but that end usually unfolds (or unravels for the eventual loser) in the same way and on the same holes.
The Masters also reflects a kind of golf with which I am familiar. I have played plenty of hilly, tree-lined courses. Michigan is full of them. Of course, none are the postcard pictures of perfection that Augusta National offers, but I’m watching for the golf, not the agronomy.
The US Open is too often tricked up for my tastes. While there is a certain schadenfreude in watching the best players in the world hack it out of knee deep rough and on occasion be unable to even stop a putt on a green (I’m looking at you Shinnecock), it ultimately is unsatisfying.
“Protecting par” gets in the way of good golf. The battle between players and the USGA over par has become a schoolyard tiff. The USGA wants to prove that its setups on its treasured courses (mostly within a day’s drive of Golf House) can break the world’s best. Worse, the USGA makes itself and its courses — not the players — the center of every story.
The PGA Championship actually has quite a lot going for it. It offers a variety of courses in both in style and geography and for the most part lets the players shine.
I share the common feeling that something is missing, though. For decades, with its August calendar spot, The PGA was a bit of an afterthought.
That may change going forward. Having moved to May, the PGA stands to be more of a preview, and less of an afterthought. May weather may also give the PGA a character it has lacked. USGA retread courses in the northeast — where May weather can be dicey — could give way to a more southern focus.
Which brings me back to the Open Championship.
Frankly, the “exotic” nature of the Open Championship appeals to me.
With the Open Rota, I see a selection of courses unlike anything here in the United States (perhaps the courses at Bandon Dunes come close). Links are wild; imperfections are embraced, rather than stamped out. Courses on the Rota are as much brown as green. None of them will ever look like Augusta, and yet they are absolutely beautiful.
Golfers at The Open battle wind, salty weather and the rub of the green, not the whims of tournament officials. I don’t recall seeing the R&A’s director of championships giving endless interviews about course setup. I can name the past three USGA competition directors; I can’t say the same about the R&A.
Watching players gird themselves against a stout wind, driving rain and cold is absolutely compelling television. Fortitude becomes as important a characteristic as the ability to drive and putt.
The rub of the green adds to the test. Balls at The Open will bounce unpredictably, putting players into positions where they must draw on their reserves to recover. Knowing that those bad bounces are out there will either fray a players’ nerves, or turn them into philosophers.
At the other majors, the strategy is nearly always to hit it as far as you dare, then fly a high, spinning ball into the green. Courses of The Rota will demand a different sort of approach. Competitors are afforded the opportunity — even required — to use their imagination and play a variety of shots.
As Brooks Koepka said “You might have fifty yards, but you’ve got about six clubs you could play. I think that’s fun.”
Remember how Todd Hamilton won the Open by chipping with a hybrid? That was the first time I had ever seen that shot; I use it constantly now in my own game. And how about all those putts from twenty plus yards off the green? So much fun to watch — and imitate.
I used those shots to great effect on my Pinehurst golf trip. It is much better to safely putt a ball up to the green with a hybrid than to try to risk having a wedge shot skip off the sides or back. I also employ the hybrid chip and pitch-and-run multiple times a round at my home course, Washtenaw Golf Club. If a ball is short, and the path to the green open, I’m going to putt with my hybrid.
I look forward this week to getting up before dawn to watch the Open Championship. I’ll enjoy watching golf in its primal state, and perhaps even learn a thing or two.
And hopefully, one of these years — while I can still play fairly well — I’ll get a chance to head over to Scotland and England to play some links golf.