Two of the most pivotal participants in the British Open are the caddies for a pair of favorites.
Ricky Elliott, who caddies for Brooks Koepka, and Harry Diamond, on the bag for Rory McIlroy, are both from the area and know every inch of the course, which is largely a mystery to most of the players in tournament. Elliott and Diamond are both accomplished golfers.
“I’ve never been to Northern Ireland, never played the golf course,” said Koepka, not counting his practice rounds in that. “He’s just told me the spots where to hit it. `This is where you want to leave it.’”
Elliott has shown him around the area as well.
“We took a little drive around on Friday afternoon, and then went into town,” said Koepka, who has been here since late last week.
“We went and visited his parents, saw where he grew up. It’s neat for him. It’s neat to see because I’ve heard so much about this place, I just haven’t been able to get here.”
McIlroy grew up in Hollywood, a neighborhood of Belfast, and knows the course well. Fourteen years ago, he shot a 61 here in the second qualifying round of the North of Ireland Championship. His card is in a display case at the club.
His first memories of Portrush were of watching his father play in that tournament.
“I remember chipping around the chipping green, being 7 or 8 years of age, my dad out playing on the Dunluce. …” McIlroy said. “My dad brought me to Portrush for my 10th birthday to play, which was my birthday present. Actually met [golfer] Darren Clarke that day for the first time, which was really cool.”
But McIlroy said Diamond is even more familiar with the course.
“That’s one of the things people don’t realize: Harry has played more rounds of golf on this course that I have,” he said. “Definitely more competitive rounds. He reached the final of the North a few years ago. He’s just as comfortable on this course as I am. So that’s a big help this week.
“I think with his experience around here, my ear will be a little sharper to what he has to say.”
The winner of the British Open gets to keep the Claret Jug for the year of his reign. Last year’s champion, Francesco Molinari, took that responsibility to heart. No messing around with that piece of shiny silver hardware.
“I was very, very careful with it, especially the first few weeks,” he said. “So much so that I forgot my TrackMan [range finder] on the plane not to forget the Claret Jug. That obviously had the priority.
“We’ve had a couple of drinks out of it. Nothing out of the ordinary. I’ve got small kids at home, so I had to keep it out of reach most of the time to avoid disaster.”
Like a lot of competitors, Tiger Woods is new to Portrush, so he and caddie Joe LaCava have done their share of studying and tinkering this week.
“Joey has done just an unbelievable job of getting numbers,” Woods said, referring to distances from various positions on the course. “He’s gone out a number of different times because he knows the weather is going to change, the wind is going to change. Our carries are going to be different. Our ending numbers are going to be different. So trying to figure all that out and then put together a game plan that’s going to work.”
Portrush, which is lush and green, figures to play completely different than the dry conditions at Carnoustie last summer, where the ball rolled forever.“Last year it was hot, it was fiery, the golf course was quick,” Woods said. “A lot of players tried to take advantage of it by hitting driver. I played a different game and tried to play a little more of a conservative, controlled game and put myself up there with a chance.“This year with the weather coming in it’s going to be different because we haven’t faced this wind yet. The wind has been out of the north, it’s been out of the east. And it will be different when it comes blowing.”