Patience is a virtue, and it will be this week as Ireland’s quartet of Open champions bid to make it six Irish wins in the last 14 years.
They do not include David Feherty, who fared well just twice in The Open. But while neither of his top-10 finishes came on the roly-poly fairways of Royal St George’s, famously described by straight-hitting Fred Funk as “a 400-acre pinball machine”, the Bangor man knows mental torture when he sees it.
“I was just thinking there, if I was a sports psychologist, I would probably take this week off,” Feherty quipped when asked what he’d say if he were Louis Oosthuizen’s mental coach.
“This is a golf course where it’s not so much what happens to you when you play well; it’s your reaction to what happens when you get a bad bounce,” he added.
The R&A has widened the fairways and grown the first cut of rough, so balls do not career into the hay.
“Every man is thrown back on his own resources here,” said Jack Nicklaus, who missed the cut twice and, like Tom Watson, Lee Trevino, Seve Ballesteros or Gary Player, never had a top-10 finish in Sandwich.
Lee Westwood explained that R&A chief Martin Slumbers admitted to him earlier this week that they may water the fairways if necessary to take the pinball effect out of the equation.
But even allowing for relatively lush conditions, a mere 15 mph north wind and slowish greens, Royal St George’s will pose a formidable test for the best players in the world.
While Nicklaus famously said that the quality of Open venues deteriorates the further south you go, Sandwich is arguably the most demanding test on the rota bar Carnoustie and finding fairways is paramount.
Darren Clarke hit just 23 fairways en route to victory in 2011, but he was second for greens hit in regulation behind Davis Love III, who hit irons almost everywhere (Bryson DeChambeau’s alternate strategy this week) and might have won the title but for an abject performance on the greens.
Total driving measures not just accuracy but length, and with Spain’s Jon Rahm at the top of those charts, it’s easy to see why he’s the hot favourite, putter permitting.
Rory McIlroy ranks just 58th with the driver, but after playing a practice round with him on the exacting, 7,189-yard, par-70 yesterday, Clarke sees his compatriot as a man with the patience to finally end his seven-year Major drought.
After all, he has started working with Dr Bob Rotella, the mental coach who opened the door to Major glory for Clarke a decade ago at the age of 42.
Reluctant to give McIlroy advice, Clarke did concede that having been frustrated for the majority of his own career, the mental game is key to conquering your demons.
“If you have the right mindset, then you allow yourself to perform, and I think Rory has been working really hard on that aspect, as well,” he said.
“Believe me, I spoke to Rory many times when we were playing, and his desire is incredible. He wants to win major tournaments. He wants to perform, and he wants to play well.
“If I was him, with his amount of talent, hell yeah, I’d be frustrated with not winning tournaments. But with that being said, the flip side of that is because of the talent that he does have, it’s only a question of time before he starts winning.”
He went on: “Rory is so gifted and talented that if it’s just one little thing that clicks in his head and it works for him, and he gets out there, and he frees up.
“He tried to do it at the US Open for a while . . . let’s hope it’s the same Rory McIlroy that’s here this week, and he frees up and keeps on doing it.”
It’s certainly a different McIlroy to the 22-year-old who complained about the weather in 2011. But whether he has enough control over his game right now is the million-dollar question.
US Open champion Rahm, an impressive winner of Irish Opens at Portstewart and Lahinch, remains the bookies’ favourite ahead of Brooks Koepka, Xander Schauffele, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson with McIlroy just behind that group.
Few are talking about reigning champion Shane Lowry, who knows what it takes.
“You’re going to have ups and downs,” he said. “You’re going to have difficult times on the course, and you’re going to have good runs, and when you’re having good runs, you need to take advantage of that.”
Nobody knows that better than the in-form, two-time champion Pádraig Harrington (50 next month), a 175-1 shot but still good enough to contend as he showed with a tie for fourth alongside Lowry in the PGA where Phil Mickelson won at 50.
“Pádraig has the experience,” Clarke said. “If you were to pick any tournament in the world where possibly an older guy could maybe take on the young guns a little bit more, a links at an Open Championship would probably be the one, because I think it’s the tournament which tests you the most, more mentally than anything.
“And a little bit of experience, a little bit of guile helps you, and there are not many more people that are more that than Pádraig Harrington.”