Open venue's pure lunar-see

SportsEnglandBritish OpenESPNPGA TourThomas BjornJustin Rose

In his 1959 novel "Goldfinger," Ian Fleming draws upon the peculiarities of Royal St. George's as a faintly disguised setting for a high-stakes golf match between James Bond and the diabolical Auric Goldfinger.

British Open entrants, though, might be just as apt to guess the scene was part of "Moonraker."

"Lunar" is a popular word to describe the bumps and pockmarks that spatter the fairways on the southeast England linksland, frequently kicking an unsuspecting player's shot into waist-high heather — or worse.

Others might prefer the term "loony."

"It's very much humps and bumps," Justin Rose said, "and you're very much at the mercy of the course in the terms of the kicks you can get."

Said ESPN analyst Andy North: "Probably from a history standpoint and the romantic part of playing the Open Championship, it's one of the least romantic. … There is not the love affair there that some of the other places have."

Not with crosswinds off the North Sea that make the good shots even more uncertain. Or with hazards bearing such colorful names as the Dragon, Hades, the Suez Canal, Nancy's Parlour and Duncan's Hollow.

That sounds more like what you'd find in a high-tension thriller. Or a spy novel.

Consider J.H. Taylor's result when the Open first left Scotland in 1894 for a whirl at the new links in Sandwich. Part of Britain's "Great Triumvirate" with Harry Vardon and James Braid, Taylor shot four rounds in the 80s — and won by five.

Only one man broke par on the fast and fiery fairways that greeted golfers at the Open's last visit in 2003 — Ben Curtis, a PGA Tour rookie playing in his first major. Thomas Bjorn lost his grip on the claret jug when he needed three shots to escape a greenside bunker at No. 16.

"That stuff happens in a heartbeat over there," North said.

Added ESPN's Curtis Strange, like North a two-time U.S. Open champion: "Mentally, you have to take into account that what you thought was going to happen might not happen."

Truth be told, goofy bounces are part of the charm of links golf. And as 1996 Open champion Tom Lehman was quick to note, part of the strategic planning.

"If you go look around (Royal St. George's), every hole has a flat area to land your shot," he said.

Lehman's first British Open was at Sandwich in 1993, when Greg Norman won with a closing 64. As he got to know the course, Lehman saw that the smoothest landing areas were a club or two short of the bumpy sections.

"If you land your ball in that short area," he said, "you can run it up into the bumps so you can keep yourself on the fairway. But guys don't want to give up the length — you've got to hit a 3-wood to do that, or even a 1-iron.

"Guys don't want to give up the length a driver gives you, but I'll take the fairway versus the foot-high rough every time."

Even 007 might prefer to avoid those risks.

jshain@tribune.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
Comments
Loading