Wednesday 22 November 2017

Woods and McIlroy lead chorus of complaints but legend Jacklin warns ‘whinging won’t win Claret Jug’

Tiger Woods got a flavour of how difficult the rough is during the practice round at Lytham and St Annes yesterday
Tiger Woods got a flavour of how difficult the rough is during the practice round at Lytham and St Annes yesterday

Karl MacGinty

MERCIFULLY, the rain stopped for several hours at Lytham, so golf's elite professionals were spared the dubious pleasure of trying to fill a wet summer's afternoon in Blackpool.

Had the weather not lifted, giving Padraig Harrington and his colleagues the opportunity to beat balls on the range at Royal Lytham and St Annes, one can only imagine what they'd have got up to in Britain's busiest seaside resort.

An afternoon traipsing through packed amusement arcades with candy-flossed kids, in the process spending Sunday's British Open first prize and possibly more?

Maybe Harrington would have taken his missus Caroline and mum Breda to the bingo or to have their palms read. Then fish and chips at Harry Ramsdens, followed by a few Newcastle Browns and back to the cramped guest house or caravan. What bliss!

Of course, the well-heeled superstars of the professional golf circus are unlikely ever to opt for a traditional British family holiday at Blackpool, which provides a slightly surreal backdrop to this year's Open in the nearby leafy suburbs of Lytham and St Annes.


However, quite a few of them seem to have become adept at that greatest of all English pastimes, moaning, judging by grim rumblings from the locker room about "unplayable" rough at Lytham this week,

To Harrington's eternal credit, he never grumbles about course conditions, adhering strictly instead to the philosophy of his mind guru Dr Bob Rotella that 'it's the best golf course I'm ever going to play this week'.

Tiger Woods started the ball rolling on Sunday when he said of the lush, rain-sated rough: "Oh my God, it's just that you can't get out of it ... in some places it's almost unplayable."

Of course, among the Major hazards endured by competitors at the Open are the British tabloids. When many of them were finished with Tiger's comments, you'd be forgiven for imagining this week's championship was being played in a Safari Park.

As ever at the Open, an agenda has been set. No question, the rough is extremely lush and heavy "in some places" as Tiger said, but it's up to the players to stay out of those places.

As he returned in teeming rain from his early morning practice round, Rory McIlroy sounded a similar refrain to Tiger, saying: "It's jungle out there in spots. The rough is brutal. I was right off the tee on 14 and it was a lost ball. If you just go in, it's okay but there are a few really bad spots but if you go in a few yards, it's jungle."

Defending champion Darren Clarke added: "There's a few patches out there where it's absolutely brutal. The grass is quite thick and it's not quite what we'd expect in links.

"It's really, really tough and if you start spraying the ball around this week, you might as well go home. There's no chance coming out of this rough at all. There's a few places, yes even with spotters and everything, where balls can be lost.

"Even if you do find the balls in some of those areas, I don't know if you'll be able to take a full swing and move it, it's so thick."

Yet Australia's Geoff Ogilvy took a more sanguine view, saying the rough "is not like Birkdale or Carnoustie, where you can't keep out of it. You play sensibly here and you are going to be able to keep it out of the long stuff mostly.

"So I think it's fine," said the 2007 US Open champion. "The course is greener probably than they wanted it to be.

"Yet this is a course you can manage your way around and stay out of it. Whereas at Birkdale, you've got so many cross-angle shots and narrow corridors (on the fairways), it's really hard to keep it out of the long stuff.

"Deep rough has more of an impact at a place like that. Here the rough is longer and it's healthier than they'd want it to be, but I don't think it'll be the defining factor of this week's tournament."

Lytham's 604 bunkers are of far more significance. "They are the ultimate strategic hazard. They really dictate how the hole has to be played," Ogilvy insisted.

"You want to have your angle into the green right but your most important priority is to keep it out of the fairway bunkers, so you can get it onto the green and make par or birdie."

In fairness, Clarke and McIlroy both readily confirm that keeping tee shots on short grass and "out of those bunkers" will be key this week.

Tony Jacklin, the erudite Englishman who won the Open here in 1969, illustrated this point nicely when he said "the bunkers at Lytham are so strategically placed, essentially they all could have a red (hazard) line around them".

Yet Jacklin, who sparked a Ryder Cup revolution with his inspired captaincy of the European team in the late '70s, hit the nail on the head when asked if he agreed that, in some places, Lytham was unplayable.

"Somebody is going to win, no matter how unplayable or playable it is," he intoned.

"You really don't get the guys who are in with a shout complaining about the condition of golf courses.

"They've all got used to the golf ball going as far as it does but you cannot get out of the fact that it's controlling the golf ball that wins you Major championships, and that's the examination.

"As tough as this is, and the wind will make it tougher, somebody will figure it out. At Muirfield in 1966, when Nicklaus won in high rough, he drove with a one-iron all week. Tiger won at Hoylake with a two-iron all week. Somebody will figure it out and get it done.

"It's just getting your head around it and getting on with it. Whinging won't win it," Jacklin concluded.

R&A chief executive Peter Dawson said: "The rough is up but the course is pretty generous on width. Most of the players seem happy with it, at least those I have spoken to -- at least 10 or so."

Given Harrington's penchant for excelling when the going is tough, perhaps he should pay a morale-boosting visit to the fortune-tellers on Blackpool's promenade.

Irish Independent

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